Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor is an extremely impressive American neuroanatomist and the author of several books, including the memoir My Stroke of Insight, and the book Whole Brain Living. When she was 37, Dr. Taylor suffered a stroke that took her 8 years to recover from. In her recovery process, Dr. Taylor discovered deep insights into neuroplasticity, trauma, and stress.
Anxiety and fear trigger the amygdala, which Dr. Taylor calls ‘the amygdala alarm.’ The amygdala is an almond-shaped structure in the brain's temporal lobe. It interacts with other brain regions and neural pathways to process and regulate emotion- aka, trigger the body’s fight or flight response. When the amygdala detects a threat, it instantly signals the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus, being the control center of the brain, communicates with the components of the nervous system, called the autonomic nervous system, that regulates involuntary physiologic processes, such as heart rate and blood pressure. More specifically, the hypothalamus sends signals through the autonomic nerves to the adrenal glands that send stress hormones, including adrenaline, into the bloodstream. These hormones trigger a physiological response such as an increased pulse rate and blood pressure. Ultimately, Dr. Taylor says that there’s a circuitry of cells that are preprogrammed in the brain to cause a bodily response (‘survival mode’) to stress.
So, when we feel anxious and we ask ourselves: What’s happening in my body? Why do I not feel safe? The answer is not to engage with the anxiety, but to instead be above it. How?
Dr. Taylor explains that when we are anxious, our rational mind is hijacked. We must acknowledge this hijacking and be cognitively above our bodies' physiological experience. Dr. Taylor has found that the climax of the psychological response to stress lasts 90 seconds and that ruminating on our feelings and thoughts worsens and lengthens the anxiety. It is critical to mention that it does take more than 90 seconds for the physical response to anxiety to lessen, but Dr. Taylor argues that it is the first 90 seconds that it will be most heightened. Dr. Tayor says that breathing deeply and recognizing what our mind is making our body feel can really help respond to anxiety.
One of my favorite lessons from Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor is her 90-second rule. This is Dr. Taylor’s popularized idea that came from her experience suffering a stroke; it is essential to mention that this concept is widely discussed and not universally accepted.
You may find that allowing yourself 90 seconds to take note of your emotions and allow them to ebb and flow can strengthen emotional resilience. This may appear to be a mechanism of feeling emotion, but taking these 90 seconds can be a great first step to self-regulating. Personally, this method has allowed me to view my emotions from a physiological perspective and not scrutinize how I feel as much.
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