In a mob of meerkats, which is what a group of them are called, there is always at least on of them on guard.
Upright and ever alert they continually scan their surroundings, looking for any potential danger. If the guard sounds the alarm, the mob immediately stops what they are doing, all instantaneously upright on hyper alert…
The alarm instantaneously affects how the whole group behaves.
Why am I talking about meerkats? Because we have an ancient alarm system deep within our brains limbic system, that acts much like a mob of them. Except its mega fast, because the meerkats of our minds are scanning for danger 15 x per second. (Take a moment to think about that, our brains are scanning for danger 15 per second, which is incredibly fast). We obviously aren’t aware this is happening, it’s on autopilot. But, when even the slightest threat is perceived, an alarm ignites the flight fight or freeze cascade and we are instantly put into primal survival mode. Much the same as the mob, how the whole brain behaves immediately changes.
A lot of people are familiar with the term flight, fight or freeze. By taking a deeper dive into exactly when, why and what happens in this survival mode, gives us insights into what we can to do to calm the meerkats.
And playful analogy aside, our mental well-being has never been more important. Four weeks into lockdown with no end in sight, uncertainty is high, and peoples’ bandwidth is limited. One of the up sides of this difficult and unprecedented situation is that SELF CARE is now very much at the top of the agenda. And if we want to keep safe, in body and mind then as David Rock says..
“learning about the brain changes everything”
Your brain in flight, fight or freeze
The brains first and foremost job is to keep us alive, which means we are hard wired to take much more notice of negative situations than positive ones. NEGATIVE SCREAMS, whereas positive whispers when it comes to grabbing our attention. When the alarm goes off the limbic system immediately takes over without us realising, stops whatever else the brain was doing and…
· Turns off our higher thinking functions because the system that does this (Pre-frontal cortex) uses up to 20% of the bodies overall resources, and that energy is now redirected to our muscles
· Floods our system with chemical cascade of adrenaline and cortisol, increasing our energy potential and focusing us solely on the next potential threat
· Narrows our field of vision to focus us only on the threat. And because the brain perceives both physical threat and psychological threat as equally dangerous, we are now primed to see only survival options, rather than other positive solutions which might have been at our disposal.
What is happening now means that the negative is continually screaming, you have only to watch the news, or go outside or engage with social media. This means our meerkats are on constant high alert and have been for quite a while. And they don’t even know when the shift is going to end! It is happening subconsciously of course, but it is happening. As this crisis continues, they become more and more tired, and like all of us when exhausted, they are a lot more sensitive and much more easily triggered!
How to calm the meerkats
Acting like a seesaw, if the limbic system is up the Pre-frontal cortex has to go down. Ideally these systems would be balanced, so that both are at their optimum.
Pushing our Pfc back on
Simply ask yourself exactly what you are feeling, your brain has to answer. The trick then is, rather than sink deeper into the feeling, ask yourself what will help, this reactivates the PFC even more.
Breath out for longer than you breath in. This simple technique is incredibly effective in calming our whole nervous system.
Learn something new. The brain loves novelty, so identify something you have always been interested in. This activates the other side of the limbic coin: we are hard-wired to run from danger and go towards reward. If we consciously move towards what we like or love then the threat response decreases.
Energy follows attention so if you consciously focus on something that you want to master or the things you are grateful for it calms the FFF response.
And finally BE KIND TO YOURSELF. It is a tough time, be understanding, accepting and compassionate of how you feel. The limbic system may house our alarm but it is also where we generate our emotions, like joy, love truth and beauty; so being kind to our meerkats not only calms them, it also brings out the best in them!
By Maria Chase, NeuroLeadership Coach, founder of Chase Coaching, and neuroscience lead for Amplenary.
- Amplenary is a unique, 5-week online programme for ambitious professionals and entrepreneurs. Blending together the fields of neuroscience, executive coaching, and personal branding for the very first time, this is a turbo-charged self-development programme unlike any other. Spring/summer virtual programme starts May 18 2020, sign up for one our free webinars to learn more. Register your interest here or directly contact Maria, Reena, or Stephanie.