When we feel that we are in a life threatening emergency our bodies begin to respond almost as strongly as our minds. This is due to what we call the fight or flight response. In these moments the mind quickly sends messages to our bodies on how to respond. All systems are included in this decision and it feels almost like an alarm has gone off in our brains and our bodies begin to follow instructions from the amygdala and hypothalamus. Below is a quick run through explanation of what occurs in these moments and how the mind and body work together swiftly:
- A threatening stimuli is noted through the thalamus. This is the part of the brain that interprets the five senses.
- It sends a message to the amygdala. This is where our brain filters out dangers that we see life threatening or detrimental towards survival. The amygdala sends the message to other parts of the brain and corresponds hormones to release and activate the Autonomic nervous system.
- The frontal lobe is seen as the brains of the operation. The frontal lobe is where information processing occurs and we filter and review what is threatening and what is not through thought processing.
- The body then feels the sensations and physical effects of all of the above. This then results in fight, flight or freeze response.
You may wonder how do we know which one is chosen? Well, the brain is smart and also has a good memory. It remembers each time there was a similar situation to the one experienced now. If this current experience is seen as life threatening the amygdala quickly responds. The amygdala will know what response is needed based on what response worked in the past. In this way it can override the frontal lobe and go directly into fight, flight or freeze mode. This is why when you find yourself in an emergency situation each person finds themselves reacting differently. This is because when you find yourself making that choice your brain is working from the amygdala or the “alarm” system which may not always be correct since the frontal lobe, what is in charge of judgement and information processing was not involved in the decision making.
Resources: A., Van der Kolk Bessel. The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma. Penguin Books, 2015.
This blog was written by Natasha Griffin, Trainee. Natasha is supervised by Danielle Fitch LMFT #94672