Since I wrote my last post, Traits of the Sensitive, I decided to do a little research on the amygdala, the part of the brain which Dr. Elaine Aron, a research psychologist, found to be highly activated in Sensitives, when witnessing or being in situations that incite emotional responses. I wanted to know just what health implications it may have on us, by its constant activation. Here’s what I found:
The amygdala is a set of small almond-shaped clusters of nuclei, located deep within our brain’s temporal lobe, which plays a huge part in processing emotions. The more aggressive the emotion the more responsive the amygdala becomes, and is directly responsible for triggering the fight or flight response hormones.
Aron found, through a series of trials and research, when Sensitives were exposed to pictures of human suffering, the amygdala was activated, which in turn releases hormones into the body further enticing emotional responses.
[As Empaths, we know we don’t need to just watch another endure pain to experience suffering, simply being in the presence of someone carrying disturbed, vexed or negative emotions is enough to set off a huge reaction within us, whether the other person shows the emotions or not.]
The amygdala is not a thinking part of the brain; so to speak, it is more of a reacting part, which will activate when exposed to stimuli such as stress, fear or other strong emotions. It causes an automatic response known as the fight or flight response.
The fight or flight response is the body’s way of protecting us from dangerous situations. The process elevates hormones to give us the energy and strength to run away from danger or stay and fight for our life.
Two of the hormones released into the body, by amygdala activation, are adrenalin and cortisol. These hormones increase heart rate, respiration and glucose levels, all essential for increased body activity. When these hormones are constantly activated by endocrine glands (courtesy of amygdala activation) and not used (by running away or fighting), it has a knock on effect and will put other organs out of whack, which can eventually lead to all sorts of illnesses such as heart disease, adrenal fatigue and diabetes, to name but a few.
Now, in normal situations, when a stressful situation is removed from the person experiencing it (a one-off stressful day at work for example), their stress levels return to normal and the amygdala stops activation. It is when the stress/emotional triggers do not decrease that causes problems within the body. This is where health complications can arise for the Empath.
Empaths don’t always get away from stressful emotions so easily, for not only do they have to deal with their own day-to-day stresses, but that of others too. When in a shopping centre or public place, one will stop feeling stranger’s emotions quite soon after leaving. However, when picking up another’s emotions, one is connected to via a family or friend relationship, these emotions do not leave so quickly and can last for anything from days, up to a week after exposure. This will also mean our amygdala is staying activated and thus a large amount of unnecessary hormones are getting dumped into our bodies which will not be used in the way they should be…
So what can we do about it?
1. The first step we can take in preventing unnecessary amygdala activation is to avoid known triggers. The people we know who stimulate a heavy negative emotional response within us, see post here (lasting more than a day) will very likely always affect us this way and to protect our/yourself you should start doing a clear-out (if you haven’t already) of those people. Yes, I know, easier said that done for some, but it is essential for your health and wellbeing and in these cases you really do have to put yourself first. Think about your health and let go of guilt associated with releasing a family member or old friend from your life.
It is known that triggers related to past experience, memories etc, produce stronger reactions in the amygdala than more recent, non-past-related experiences, and this is all the more reason to avoid those who you have a bad history with (I know how difficult detachment is, but from my experience, with those who evoke negative emotional responses within, over time things get worse, not better. No matter how much you work on yourself).
People who bring nothing to your life but emotional pain will eventually bring disease too. As already noted the amygdala is a defence mechanism automatically activated by emotional responses, so even if you have trained the amygdala not to react to certain stimuli, it can be triggered by memory and being with someone who has caused you past emotional pain.
2. Control your mind and thoughts: Keep the mind quiet to stop unnecessary amygdala activation from thoughts, read post here
3. Avoid stimulants: Sensitives react to coffee and other stimulants more than most, so it is best to know your caffeine intake limits and stay within them (take note at which point you get a physical response – too much caffeine can cause shakiness, pounding heart, flushing, faster breathing and an aching chest – and stay under the that amount), otherwise you may activate the amygdala.
4. Exercise daily. Exercise has many redeeming benefits but in the case of amygdala activation, it can help disperse and use up excess glucose, adrenalin and cortisol in the bloodstream, caused by emotional responses off others (see final point).
5. Control glucose levels through diet: Emotions off others can result in extra glucose being dumped into our bloodstream (after the amygdala activates cortisol production), which plays havoc with our waistline and also messes with the hormones of the body. It is essential for good health that we create balance from the food we eat to prevent blood glucose spikes as we are already at risk of having spikes, just by being around others. I have already written posts regarding how wheat and sugar is dangerous to us Empaths, but this post, on how they affect our blood sugar levels, is worth a look at. And although it is explaining how high blood sugars make us overweight, it also explains how food triggers our glucose (blood sugar) levels.
6. Cover all bases: As we never really know when we may be in a situation that will cause an amygdala activation, through being peopled or other, it is best to have all bases covered. This post will help.
Hope all is keeping really well in your world…
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©Diane Kathrine at Empaths Empowered
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