Flight Or Flight

0.0 Introduction
0.15 The Limbic Hypothalamic System of the human brain
1.00 The Fight, Flight or Freeze response
2.11 Exercise in Awareness
3.25 Threat or Safety separation function of the Limbic system
4.18 Survival Response or State Dependent Memory
5.32 the brain wants to keep us safe – to help us survive situations

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Hi everybody, Alan Patching back with another edition of Transforming Minds, and in this edition we are going to be looking at the Limbic Hypothalamic System. It might sound scary, it’s not!

The LHS is the fancy name for the reptilian part of the brain and it deals largely with emotions. But effectively, what it is about – is it’s about survival. In very simple terms that part of our brain divides every experience into one of threat or safety.

If something is experience by that part of the brain as safe, it won’t even bring it to conscious awareness. However, if it’s a threat, it will act to protect us again out of conscious awareness. So, the first we notice, is that it’s already active and we notice that because we feel anxiety from the flight or fight response in our body.

So let me explain how this happens. In the old days our great, great, great, great, great, great grandfathers were out hunting for lunch, really, in that environment it was either they’d kill an animal for lunch or they would become it’s lunch. So whenever they faced the danger of dealing with an animal they had a couple of options. You’d either stay and fight the animal, kill it and bring it home for lunch – hopefully not becoming its lunch, or you figured this one is a bit big for me and I’ll be it’s lunch so I need to hightail it out of here …. so they’d just run.

That’s the flight, first one was fight, second one was flight. Or perhaps if they ere in the jungle or something and they figured, ‘whoops, this one’s a bit big – the best thing would be just freeze and hope the animal doesn’t see them’. So we call that the fight, flight or freeze response. Now, whenever they did that the body would go through a series of steps to help them deal with whether they were fleeing, whether they were fighting, or whether they were freezing. So we are going to explain how the fight or flight system works, physiologically in our next blog post, but for now, let’s just stay with LHS which triggers all these things off.

If you do a little exercise now and were to take a little time, turn the video off here for a moment and just close your eyes and you could be aware about the moment and you can do that easily even as I speak. So close your eyes for just a while. I will still be here when you come back and just with your eyes closed you can notice things like the weight of your feet on the floor, or the weight on the chair or whatever you are being supported on. Notice that, apart from my voice, there are other sounds around you and that might be air conditioning, external sounds, sounds of friends or family around you, that perhaps you weren’t aware of before. You can be aware of your clothing and how some of it gently touches your skin and other parts are a bit tighter … like for example a belt or a bra strap or something like that. You could be aware of jewellery you’re wearing …like a watch, maybe a pair of spectacles. You can be aware of the temperature of the room, and any breeze or any air movement on your face.
Now all of these things the Limbic is constantly picking up – but you may or may not be paying any attention to it. But if any of these things were a danger, it would very quickly bring to your attention. So when picking up all these things every moment of the day, non stop, the limbic part of your brain is simply saying, “that’s safe, that’s safe, that’s safe, don’t even let her know about it, don’t even let him know about it,” and so life goes on. But if you have a fear of a spider and something that remotely looks like a spider crosses your path and your peripheral vision, your limbic will immediately fire off your adrenal system of your fight or flight system and you will have the reaction of anxiety decided before you are even aware that the spider is there. And a lot of study in the area was done by an American guy called LeDoux in the early 1990s.

So in affect we’ve only got about 20 years of experience of this level of study in this part of environment and technology. Now here’s how things work, it’s really interesting. Once we have a reaction to something that we may or may not have been scared of in the past, the brain says, “let’s become efficient here” and, for example, if I was used to speaking in public very confidently and something happened during a presentation like the lights went off or I lost my Powerpoint slides or whatever, I am nervous about that and I’m feeling nervous the whole way through, when I get to the end of that, the brain will say, ‘he survived that speech by having a nervous reaction to what happened’, so next time he needs to give a speech I’ll help him survive that by bringing that same nervous reaction forward, and all of a sudden you’ve got a developed fear of public speaking.

This part of the mind is so efficient at helping you survive in fact it’s called the ‘survival response’. Sometimes it’s called ‘state dependant memory’ or even ‘imprints’ which I even think is a better name.

So the things that occur that cause anxiety and we survive through that in the way the subconscious mind imprinted, and that becomes ‘automatic tapes’ that apply when we are in a similar circumstance in future … because the brain wants to help us to survive and the easiest way in emotional logic to do that is to repeat the same feelings you had last time you had that experience.

It’s a fascinating part of the brain technology but sometimes it can lead to circumstances where you are having feelings where they are just not necessary because the danger you originally reacted to wasn’t as real as you deemed it to be and now the reaction is the same as it would be if you were like your great, great, great, great, great grandfather and were faced with an attack by a sabre tooth tiger.

We will talk more about the brain and how it works in terms of our every day in future sessions, for now I hope you found this interesting.

Looking forward to seeing you on future sessions, I’m Alan Patching.

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