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Body dysmorphia. An amygdala hijack.

Permanent Linkby margharris on Fri Mar 13, 2015 11:13 pm

I hadnt looked at specific structures of the brain as the cause of BDD or OCD because the illness itself took all my attention. I was blown away when reading about the amygdala hijack. It was easy to recognize our experience with BDD panics. Below is a working definition of the amygdala I found. It is all about that emotional reaction in flight fight or freeze mode:

The amygdala is a very small almond shaped mass of nuclei located deep within the temporal lobe of the brain. It is involved in many of our emotions and motivations, and most significantly, those that are related to survival. The amygdala is involved in the processing of emotions such as fear, anger and pleasure. The amygdala is also responsible for determining what and where memories are stored.
So the amygdala must be involved in a BDD or OCD panic cycle. This would explains the level of emotional intensity, the lack of aversion to the pain caused and the inability to recall reassurance. Memories aren't being processed and stored to moderate and create that learned conditioned response. It is like having holes in your memory. So the person with BDD or OCD continues to repeat behaviours and panic.

Many of us will have heard the term emotional intelligence. Well this also describes the amygdala being hijacked” so to speak, and wreaking havoc on our ability to tap into our rational brain to make good decisions. When an event happens that triggers an intense emotional response the amygdala gets activated and starts the whole fight or flight response in your mind/body system. The body and mind gets caught up in various neuro-chemical processes that make it extremely difficult to think through the situation with a calm and logical approach so you panic. It can take anywhere from three to four hours for your mind/body system to begin to calm down after the amygdala is hijacked.
So this is what the experts on emotional intelligence say to do. It looks similar to a Jeffery Schwartz approach in 4 steps.

1. Realize! Stop yourself and notice that your amygdala is being hijacked into a fight or flight response. Recognize the emotions that are flooding you and name them. There really is no terrifying event happening.
2. Breathe! Taking 4 or 5 deep, cleansing breaths will oxygenate the brain, supposedly helps anxiety.
3. Give thanks or refocus. This one will be hard to do, but just DO IT – say to yourself what you are grateful about related to the situation you are experiencing. The act of moving toward gratitude is helping shift the neuro-chemical landscape in your brain. I think some form of nature would be easier to focus on so I added refocus. Even carrying a pet rock you can start describing might work.
4. Re-think! Once your emotions have calmed and you can think rationally, re-evaluate the situation and pinpoint the triggers. Becoming aware of your triggers helps your brain to shift into the neocortex logic brain again and activate rational thinking about this event and how your mind/body responded to it.

To avoid future amygdala-hijacking, use mindfulness to train your brain ahead of time. Mindfulness is the act of bringing your attention to the present moment in a way that allows you to act as a compassionate observer about what is happening on a moment-to-moment basis.

It sounds good but I know that the BDD cascade of fear happens in an instant and is very hard to get a hold of any perspective other than sheer terror.

So with this information we have another key to overcoming BDD. We have to tame this amygdala. It is over-reactive. By reducing compulsions and talking about our concerns openly, we might be able to reduce triggers. Marg

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