Have you ever felt overwhelmed by having to make a decision and not being able to come to the conclusion about what the best possible option would be for you and/or your family?? And the harder you tried to think and find a solution the more confused and frustrated you felt? Or you made a choice but you were not happy with it afterwards or you just kept postponing making the decision?
I believe that one of the biggest stress people experience in their life is caused by not being able to make the “right” decision and having to deal with the consequences of the “wrong” decision, which in some cases can last a lifetime. If we are unsure what is the right decision for us we can be stuck in postponing making a choice, which will just create more stress as the body endeavours to compensate for the stress it is experiencing and became exhausted.
Why is it so hard to make a choice?
Has it got anything to do with the brain and how it works under pressure?
Yes it does! When we are stressed we activate our Fight or Flight centres of the brain creating loss of brain integration. When we lose brain integration the different parts of the brain stop communication with each other effectively making it difficult to think clearly and positively and in a timely manner creating more stress and more loss of brain integration.
Stress can be categorised as psychological, mental, emotional, physical or physiological and we experience most varieties of stress during our lifetime. Generally, as we move from psychological to physiological stress, the cause of the stress becomes progressively more subconscious, meaning the origin of the stress becomes less obvious to us, making it harder to act upon it and change it on a conscious level.
Stress is the primary cause of loss of Brain Integration. When stress levels reach a critical threshold it fires the Fight and Flight system, activating UNRESOLVED survival emotions from the past. This in turn inhibits the frontal lobe functions. The frontal lobe is responsible for our executive functions; these are the actions that separate man from all other animals. Some of the executive functions are higher level reasoning, analysis, understanding cause and effect, problem solving, multi- tasking, creative and lateral thinking. In different parts of the brain, in the brainstem and limbic area we also house our survival system that is responsible to keeping us alive. The amygdala is the sentinel of our Survival System that constantly checks for potential danger or threat. It only uses a few neural networks and makes a fast decision as to whether the image we saw could be potentially dangerous. If the answer is yes it will start a cascade of physiological symptoms acting on our endocrine system as well as Autonomic Nerves system:
Release adrenalin that increases heart rate, blood pressure, glucose level
Release of cortisol level – while short term high cortisol level is for the benefit of the person being in a stressful situation, especially if it is a physically dangerous situation as it suppresses inflammation, increases pain intolerance, reduces fat & protein metabolism, and increases blood glucose allowing fast muscle contraction to allow you to fight or run away. The long term effect of high cortisol is detrimental.
It changes DNA expression – have you notices you are developing some of the diseases your parents or grandparents experienced after your life became stressful?
suppresses immune system – cancer is the most known one here; all patients being diagnosed with cancer have high cortisol level
creates break down in metabolism – digestive system disorders are endless
become insulin resistance – diabetes is on the rise
Adrenal fatigue – you keep going until you collapse?
Redistribution of blood: restricted blood flow to the digestive system (creating lots of different type of digestive disorders) and redistributing to the heart, lung and muscles allowing you to run away or fight in the given situation. Have you ever craved sugar and carbohydrate wanting fast burn energy instead of fat and protein that takes longer to digest.
Redistribution of blood within the brain: turning blood flow off to the frontal lobe area of the cortex and redistribution it to the survival area of the limbic and brainstem. We will go into more details about that below.
The glucose release also blocks the “now” time of the hippocampus (short term memory centre) and activates the reactive memory to see what you did last time to survive. Have you noticed that your memory is not as good as it used to be? It is caused by high level or cortisol damaging this part of the brain.
Let go back and look at the Amygdala a bit more and the different part of the brain. While the Amygdala is a small nuclei and it doesn’t do the job by itself it knows how to activate lots of different part of the brain including switching off the corpus callosum. Corpus Callosum is the biggest integrative pathway connecting the left and right hemisphere of the brain. Our brain has 2 hemispheres, the right and the left. The two hemispheres have 2 different types of thinking: the inductive and deductive reasoning. One looks at the incoming information as a whole and responsible for intuitive thinking. The other part of the brain is the logical one with the analytical, linear, sequential thinking and looking at the piece that make up the whole. While both of them are very powerful on their own, it is even better when the two are integrated. In any given decision making situation if we have brain integration then we are utilising all our faculties in order to make the best possible decisions.
When we are stressed the Survival system “shuts off” the Corpus Callosum not allowing the neural flow between the 2 hemispheres.In a sense there are only 3 options as to how we react in times of stress depending on the amount of the stress:
Frontal lobes are “turned on” and your executive functions are fully functioning allowing fast and effective decision making and creative problem solving. At the same time your emotional survival centres are balanced so they are on “standby” allowing the frontal lobe to function.
Frontal lobes are “turned on” and functioning but at the same time the survival system is “turned on” processing survival emotions like fear, anxiety, anger, frustration , grief and so on. For that reason the frontal lobes have to divert some of their resources to regulate and keep the survival emotions under control. While you still might be able to make effective decisions, it could greatly slow the process down as it takes a great amount of effort and energy to control and supress the survival emotions.
Frontal lobes are “turned off” by the survival system and have very little access to the executive functions of your problem solving skills. As the survival system and your survival emotions (fear, rage, panic etc.) are fully activated, the largest integrative pathway in the brain, the corpus callosum, has been shut off by the Amygdala. The effect is that we shift from problem solving to reactive thinking, seeing only the problem, and only with limited options. In this situation you either postpone the decision making as you can’t think clearly; or you make your decision from a short- term crisis perspective or you just react. Have you ever been in a situation where you didn’t realise you reacted until after you reacted?
Why does the brain something like this when it is obviously not for our benefit?
Well, the brain most important function is to keep us alive and it favours it to highly intellectual thinking that supports us in making great decisions that could enhance our life experience. The other reason is that the amygdala does NOT THINK, IT ASSOCIATES and it was developed in the first 5 years of the person life that get activated when we are stressed. It associates with smell, sight, sounds, touch etc. Some of our survival patterns are activated all the time, some are only activated in special situations.
Aren’t our children amazing at activating our traumas bringing it the surface and giving us the chance to deal with them and release them?
I strongly believe that happiness doesn’t come from copying what other people do, but by being aware of deepest needs, consciously trying to bring it into our lives and resolving the trauma that is holding us back and making the “right” decision to manifest it in our life.
Have you ever tried really hard and put all your effort, time and even money into making positive steps to realise your dreams, only to end up burning out or ending up with the same old result? The cause could well be due to the activation of your survival system.
In kinesiology, through muscle monitoring and working with the brain via the acupoints we can access, become aware of the issue and release the cause of it and “turn off” your survival system. Thanks to Dr. Charles Krebs who did several years of research on the brain we have a wonderful way to work effectively with the brain.
While I believe life is not always going to be an easy ride, by “turning off” your survival system, releasing trauma that made it turn on and allowing optimal brain function and brain integration you can make “better” choices and you journey can be more enjoyable, more effective and you will feel you are in the flow of life.