chapter III – the Amygdala

Chapter III
Anxiety and sleep, what the heck is happening? If you delve into philosophical thoughts on evolution and becoming modern day human, one stumbles on different theories of what it must be like living in a cave. What type of diet, how we cooked our food, weapons on hand, warmth and perhaps the most concerning that relates to sleep is when and what carnivores would enter my cave in the middle of the night? I would miss my tempurpedic mattress, the overhead fan, the lock on the front door and the proximity of the flush toilet. For the caveman and cavewoman and cave kids there was no such security and comfort.
An interesting read for me was Jack London’s book Call of the Wild. He was alone in the wilderness keeping a long-term eye on a wolf pack. He had some interesting experiments like watching how the wolves established their trails as theirs by peeing himself in the middle of the trail. He noted the wolf pack went around his markers and developed a new trail and respected his own ownership of that portion. When the wolf pack was ready to have their babies and way before automatic night cameras, he experimented with various techniques to make sure he did not miss the birth. He noted the wolves got up frequently and turned around in their beds and returned to sleep after becoming aware of their surroundings on a frequent basis. He tried it for himself and got up and turned around and went back to sleep but was up on a frequent enough basis he would never miss the births while still getting adequate rest. This might have worked for our cavemen too while protecting their family all night long.
If you are a caveman and feel as comfortable as you can with what you have, establish a way to find, store and cook your food, keep dry and warm, your biggest concern might be restricted to the moment a beast comes into your space and looking hungry. You have sticks and stones and fire to send him off and then you return to whatever cavepeople do day after day. This is where the theory of fight, flight, and freeze relating to anxiety comes from. When under attack the body has one main gland that reacts, the amygdala, and specialized in dealing with your body and fear. A key point is that scientists have discovered that the amygdala does not evaluate the urgency or quality of the fear before it has its response. The fear could be a tiger or something more irrational like a perceived (imaginary) threat and the amygdala reacts the same. Most of your body functions are immediately directed to the amygdala in reaction mode and you might become frozen or have a panic attack.
I have developed difficulty having telephone conversations under certain circumstances and as a result all phone conversations feel more uncomfortable than to most people. Most likely it was a starting out job selling life insurance half a century ago. The training started by the boss asking if you knew a hundred people. Everyone hesitates at that one but with encouragement most people can write down one hundred people they know, typically starting with family and then friends and then moving on to slightly more distant relationships. With a sense of pride, I turned over my list to my boss in my initiation period. Pride turned to horror when I discovered the bosses next statement was to call everyone on the list and try to sell them insurance. After ruining many friendships and family and friends of family you then get a cold call message. You are assigned a room and tossed a phone book, and you start to call one hundred people every working day. You come back in the evening to call those that are more apt to be home then. The company tells you that in 100 calls you should get 10 appointment and if you get one sale from those ten, they you are off to a good start and an average life insurance salesman. They also encourage you to push the more lucrative commission and company results type policies even if they are not the best policy for the person or family member you are pushing them too. I lasted almost a year and for the next fifty years I have suffered on many phone calls. At some point in my different careers, I got pretty good at marketing and felt pretty comfy with my pitches. I had a rare appointment with permission one day to call a CEO of a major company to do an introductory phone call to secure a huge account. It was a high stake, once in a lifetime type opportunity and at the given time I made the dialing. When the CEO answered in a friendly voice, barely got out my name and a hello when my throat swelled up and I could barely talk. It was a terrifying and most horrible experience. Fortunately, I had on the end of the phone a narcissistic CEO that only wanted to talk and talk, and I never needed much to say other than thank you and goodbye. It was a reminder of how powerful anxiety can be and how devastating it is with its entire control over normal body functions. It is suspect key factor now to rationalize how poorly I did on exams at university and later with interviews. Anxiety simmers away and even with awareness and therapy it is extremely difficult to address. Understanding the way, the amygdala has evolved to protect the caveman from life and death survival situations explains why the amygdala is such a powerful influence in our body, an autonomic process and so difficult to improve on by adapting to current requirements.
The key factors for the amygdala:
– Autonomic critical key function of the body
– Responds to stress, danger, or perceived danger
– When activated it responds indiscriminately
– When perceived danger is present the amygdala response does not shut down
– When functioning over long term the amygdala becomes desensitized and flows easily
– One output of the amygdala is cortisone a rather difficult hormone for the body to dissipate
– Cortisone is suspected to be a major contributor in disruption of sleep patterns.
If you are afraid or angry the body tends to react by fighting, or running away or just freezing in place, probably nature’s way of attempting to avoid detection.
The heart races and many anxiety-based body functions kick in. The body behaves poorly, and sleep is not the bodies best form of defense. I went through a period of my life in severe depression, and I slept almost twenty hours a day for weeks but that was avoidance and like running away with no place to go. If you have ever had a panic attack you know how real it feels and if you have been fortunate enough to not have had one, then just let me say at the time a normally normal person has little ability to tell the difference between the effects of anxiety and feeling of immediate terminal medical condition requiring emergency room intervention. Certain ways our bodies function provide little awareness and those autonomic functions that keep our hearts beating and lungs working also run some aspects of our operation that do not always work that well. Modern day stress response is one of them.

Next to chapter IV