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Dealing with Stress, the Amygdala and World Peace
By Nick Jacobs


Like many people, I have always had a desire to do something significant to make the world better. After I left teaching and explored a few other career cul-de-sacs, I ended up in healthcare administration where I started a deeper search for my big impact opportunity. Then came research, and I realized there truly was potential to change the world. More importantly, I discovered some areas where those world changes really could be found.

Although not a scientist or physician myself, I started working with neuroscientists and psychiatrists who taught me about the amygdala which is, simply stated, a roughly almond-shaped mass of gray matter inside each cerebral hemisphere of the brain and involved with the experiencing of emotions. It’ also the source of many of the world’s challenges.

I’ve further learned that our brains have two amygdala sections, one on either side. For me, it was like finding out a bill I got was only half of the bill; now we’ll have twice as much to deal with on our quest to change the world through amygdalae-control. (Or, if you prefer, stress management.)

Neuroscientists say the amygdala appears to be the source of our memory, decision making, and, most importantly for this treatise, emotional reactions. These include happiness, sadness, anger, fear, and aggression. It also seems to be a storage bin for memories that impact future decision making. Its size determines our levels of aggression and physical behavior. It’s also involved in our sexuality and sex drive. Oh, and for the record: The right amygdala appears to be the trouble maker.

Now, here’s where things get a little more complex but also encouraging. The function of the frontal lobe’s prefrontal cortex helps to control the amygdala. According to an article titled, “The Brain Made Simple,” you use your prefrontal cortex to think and make decisions. This part of the frontal lobe is also where our personality is formed and where we can carry out higher mental processes. In addition, the frontal lobe is necessary to be able to speak. (Lot’s going on in that relatively small space, right?)

Controlling the amygdala via the prefrontal cortex could be the good news, except for one very important thing: This part of our brain isn’t completely developed until our early and sometimes even mid-20s. This explains why most teenagers and young adults can be noncompliant regarding the rules of society. It’s this part of our brain that provides some reasoning skills to calm down the amygdala, but it doesn’t do it either soon enough or often enough.

There are still more layers of influencers that contribute to how we act, and they can go back literally millions of years. There are genetic changes that have occurred over generations. Was your mom under stress while you were in the womb? Did your ancestors come from a society where war was always part of their lives? Do you have other specific genetic mutations, or have you been subjected to abuse or early childhood trauma? Do you have higher levels of testosterone? All these variables can contribute to how you act and react.

Back to my opening sentence. Not unlike every Miss Universe, I really do want world peace. But it now seems clear to me that the only way to achieve that efficiently is to find the means to hijack the destructiveness and idiocy that sometimes emerges from the functioning of the amygdalae due to the lack of involvement from the prefrontal cortex.

What does all of this psycho-babble have to do with stress?

Since most of our stress emanates from those little almond-sized portions of our brain, the question is: How do we control it? The answer? Mindfulness. The future of stress management.

The beauty of this is, it takes just minutes a day to get into the routine of slowing your mind down by focusing on single calming words or ideas, and thus shutting up that pesky amygdala. Focus, Focus, Focus. Use a mantra, or prayer, or stare at your nose as you breathe calmly, deep breaths, holding each just a few seconds longer than normal before exhaling. Stress management is absolutely tied to controlling your amygdala. Positive self-talk helps as well because the amygdala focuses on negativity, fear, irrational happenstances that can include asteroids, famines, and pandemics . . . or what we now refer to as just another day in 2020.

Another good way to control stress is through humor, focusing on positivity, and not allowing yourself to be sucked into the black hole of woulda, shoulda, coulda living. Controlling the amygdala is no easy task. Controlling stress is even harder because there are reasons to feel stressful that are sometimes intended to protect us.

Some people who know me might say I’m the last person to lecture anyone on how to control stress. My old Italian grandmother taught me to worry better than almost anyone I’ve ever met, but I’ve survived quite a few decades, in large part because some people taught me about controlling my amygdala.

If you are interested in taking more control of yourself and your amygdala, there is much reference material on this subject, as well as meditation, stress management and practical uses of humor in everyday life. Give it a try—and maybe do your part to advance world peace!

Nick Jacobs is a partner with SMR, LLC, a senior leadership healthcare consulting firm. He is a founder of the Academy of Integrative Health and Medicine, former board member of the American Board of Integrative Holistic Medicine and served on the Executive Committee. A former hospital CEO and founder of two genetic research institutes, Jacobs maintains a website, Healinghospitals.com.



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