19 Apr Taming Your Alligator Brain
As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, your Alligator, or Reptilian Brain, has been around a very long time and shows no signs of leaving the neighborhood. Its evolutionary mission for almost 400,000,000 years has been to keep us safe. It does not care about our happiness, goals or values. It operates using a “Fight or Flight” switch that snaps into action as soon as it becomes aware of discomfort or danger.
Unfortunately, the Alligator Brain usually overreacts and causes an upsurge in Adrenalin and Cortisol, which exacerbate feelings of upset, worry and anxiety.
There is good news though! With practice and focus you can tame the gator’s reactions and move through any upset with a sense of focus, while keeping cool in the process.
Here are several strategies you can use for “Gator Control”:
1. Slow deep breathing.
Start with 10 really deep breaths deep into your belly. Typically, under stress we breathe shallowly and rapidly. In contrast to this, deep breathing triggers a physiological relaxation response. Try this: breathe in for four counts, then hold the breath in for six counts and breathe out for seven.
2. Write down your scary, negative and catastrophic thoughts. Get them out of your head and onto paper. This will give you objectivity and emotional distance from your dreadful thinking and stop the cycle of counterproductive thoughts.
3. Use your imagination and envision a calm, safe, and relaxing experience. Vividly see it, hear it and feel it. Stay present in this scene and savor it for at least two minutes.
4. When you have a scary thought, ask yourself, “Is this true?” True in the sense that it is actually happening to me now? If the answer is “no” or “not now”, then you are in the grasp of the alligator. Being caught in the grasp of the alligator produces anxiety and fear about what could happen to you in the future. It’s the tyranny of “What if?” thinking. Try using the acronym FEAR: False Expectations Appearing Real, to evaluate the rationality of your thinking.
So, try these simple and practical strategies the next time you slip into your worry pit. The quicker you get out of it, the better you will feel and the more self-control you will develop.