Captain Cave Man, Anxiety and Meditation
‘That saber tooth looks like he wants free-range human for breakfast. Better grab my spear or get far away!’ Considering what our ancient ancestors dealt with they definitely needed highly developed survival instincts!
So to avoid becoming just another prehistoric statistic, our forefathers needed within their brain a highly evolved fear center which we now know to be the amygdala. They did, and it served them well.
The problem is that our brains are still wired much like our stone-age ancestors. While we live in modern cities free of lions, tigers, and bears our job stress, money problems, and relationship quarrels still trigger our fight, flight or freeze fear response daily.
With truck loads of scientific studies pointing to stress as the principal cause of disease, sorting out a way to sooth our primitive amygdala is critical in this high paced and stressful world we now live in.
In 2011, Massachusetts General Hospital researchers fMRI brain scanned 51 adults before and after 8 weeks of mindful meditation training. They found that these adults, who had never previously meditated before effectively silenced the electrical activity within their primitive amygdalae. This meant they had far fewer anxiety, worry, and fear signals being sent out to the prefrontal cortex.
However, what really made the neuroscientific community sit up and take notice was that the participants dramatically decreased the actual volume of their amygdalae! Even more amazing was it didn’t take years. Participants in the study accomplished this amazing feat in less than two months!
The implications of this finding are tremendous. Knowing that it’s possible to turn down our primitive brain, we can protect ourselves against the extensively documented negative effects of stress. Particularly anxiety, depression, and addiction.