Why is a good friend of mine afraid of chameleons? She has never been attacked by one and her reasoning brain tells her that her fear is irrational, but she will break down doors to get away from a chameleon. Where does this fear arise and why the violent reaction to fear?
Our long-term memory resides in our limbic brain or the hippocampal formation to be precise. This repository does not reason or discriminate between reality and fantasy, it just stores memories and the responses deemed appropriate. So, if someone you are dependent on in your early development creates an association of fear with an object (a chameleon), you will pull up this memory every time this object is presented. The limbic brain is also very fast. Remember when you were learning to ride a bicycle or drive a car and you were using your reasoning mind to carry out all the functions, it was difficult. But when these operations had been ‘learned’ by the limbic brain you could use your thinking mind to plan supper while driving home from work, no problem! Limbic memory is instantaneous; fear arises before you have even identified the source.
Another part of the limbic brain, the amygdala, is responsible for our survival. It hijacks all our other systems, including our reasoning brain, whenever we experience fear or anything stressful, for that matter. The task of the amygdala is to make us faster and stronger that we normally are to maximise our chance of survival (break down the door to escape the chameleon). It does this chemically through the secretion of cortisol and adrenalin. There are some 1400 chemical reactions related to these chemicals that work to make us faster and stronger so we can run or fight (fight or flight associated with fear).
Besides enhancing some of our physical systems (and suppressing others to conserve energy for the important systems), our thinking mind is also suppressed so that the learned behaviour patterns from our limbic memory are prioritised (even though these learned behaviours may be detrimental to your survival because they were learned on false premises: e.g. get away from chameleon at all costs to self and surroundings). And we experience negative emotions, in case any feelings of sympathy towards the “enemy” arise in our thoughts.
How many modern-day stressors require that we run or fight? So most of the work of the amygdala is in vain and counter-productive. Worse, cortisol and the resultant cascade of chemicals that make us faster and stronger are poisonous if they are not used for running and fighting. In this way modern-day stress harms our health and emotional well-being. In response exercise is promoted for health.
Were we to run or fight, the upshot of succeeding in our endeavour to survive would find us panting for breath. The combination of physical exertion and full-lung breathing (panting) triggers our body to de-stress. Yes, we have a survival mechanism and a de-stressing mechanism in-built. De-stressing is also a chemical process. It is initiated by the release of endorphins.
The chemical consequence is that all the physical systems are brought into balance – those that were enhanced are normalised and those that were suppressed are allowed to function again – and emotionally we feel great while our thinking mind is allowed to function again.
Laughter causes us to use the full capacity of our lungs and, as reported in the last blog, it is cardio-vascular exercise. Laughter triggers our de-stress mechanism. It is the most effective way to deal with modern-day stress. It stops the amygdala hijacking our day, keeps our thinking alert and creative and our emotions positive.
Seriousness, a pre-requisite to being taken seriously in today’s society, aids and abets our amygdala ruining our day. We need to relegate this pea-sized part of our brain to the importance it’s diminutive size deserves by replacing seriousness with levity. Laughter is the answer to modern-day survival.
Laughter Strategist, Laughter Coach, Master Trainer with a passion to assist people transform their lives to reach their highest potential.