I like to compare our automatic limbic response to the Secret Service protective force for the President of USA, whose powers exceeds even that of the President himself when there is a perceived threat to his life from an assassin. They can bodily take him away against his wishes to his safety! The key word here in the above sentence is “PERCEIVED threat” which may not actually be a real threat.  Our body has an internal mechanism similar to this and it exists to protect us from fatal dangers and keep us alive. You can understand this better from a backdrop of the story of evolution.

We humans evolved as a final step in a long chain of evolution which started hundreds of millions of years ago. Our close evolutionary ancestors began walking on two legs almost seven million years ago and the modern human being as we are today first evolved over a hundred thousand years ago. For over 99% of that time humans have been freely running around in the jungles just like any other animal. Therefore all our body’s evolution has been created to help us be able to respond to threats, which means certain death from other stronger predatory animals. This is the limbic response – our organs and glands such as Amygdala, medulla oblongata, adrenal gland, pituitary gland in combination produces and releases into the bloodstream hormones such as adrenaline, cortisol and norepinephrine to help with the flight-fight choice to deal with the threat. These hormones are usually referred to as stress hormones.  Prolonged or repeated perception of threat puts our body in a sort of constant limbic hijack mode with our bloodstream always flushed with these hormones making us feel a constant rush, restless and in a fight-flight mode. It becomes a habitual tendency and we are able to function only when in this mode. 

The limbic response is best suited when there is a real physical threat and it is actually required to either run away or physically fight to save ourselves. In our modern urban life, the threat is completely different such as fear or missing deadlines, loosing your job, angry boss / parent / partner, failing the exam, power shutdown, data network lost, device malfunction, traffic jam and a plethora or such things. But the body responds to any of these threats whether real or just imagined, in the same way – with the limbic response of pumping our bloodstream with stress hormones. Lack of physical activity during such times results in the hormones remaining in our blood stream or being stored as toxins in our body and prolonging our suffering.

There is very little you could do while in the state of limbic hijack.

Calming techniques do help but you would most likely tend to remember the techniques only when you calm down long after the damage has been done!

Damage here refers to the physical health, but it can also include damage to relationships, performance, effectiveness at work, of feeling perennially at a loss or dissatisfied . It helps to understand that this state is a result of certain habits we have inculcated over the long term simply by living in a competitive urban environment. As you can see from this article about habits, it is almost impossible to let go of deeply ingrained habits. However we can, with awareness inculcate a few new habits which would eventually replace the unhelpful ones and help us gradually reduce instances of getting hijacked by our limbic response. 

Let us bring to our awareness what I mean by this habit that we need to replace. Whenever we need to get something important done, we get into scary thoughts of what might happen if we don’t do it or fail to properly do it and enter into our limbic hijack mode. The adrenaline rush created by this helps us focus on the work at hand and helps us to do it.

What we are effectively doing here is, pushing ourselves into the work that we want to do and using the resources available to us in our fight-flight mode to accomplish it.

This whole thing is unconscious and begins right in our childhood with our studies and exams or even competitive sports. We do not know any other way to get done the things that we need to do or want to do! This is the push-mode of working which is always exhausting. In the end we also get into the habit of relishing the exhaustion that results to give us a feeling of accomplishment.

Such an accomplishment lacks fulfilment and we never are able to feel deep satisfaction of actually doing something worthwhile. 

The new habits that we can begin to inculcate starts right in the morning as soon as we wake up. Look for the first thought of your day – it would likely be, I didn’t sleep enough and followed by a rush of all that needs to be done. With awareness acknowledge these thoughts about the night that has been and the day that is not yet here and come back to the present moment, take a deep breath and a scan of your body saying hello to each part of your body and saying hello to the sunlight and the new day that is here right now. Ten minutes of gentle Energy Movements and body stretches is the best way to begin your day, consciously choosing to stay with your body and your breath until your body is fully awake. Another ten minutes of meditation practice would be the perfect recipe for a day of ease and flow. Remember that you are cultivating a habit here and the effects will show up only when this becomes your regular habit, so persist with it for a few months. 

The new habit to cultivate during the day is to notice your limbic responses, acknowledge, accept, allow and replace (AAAR). This is a gradual longterm practice where you come back to the awareness of this moment, acknowledge that you are in a limbic response mode, accept it as it is, allow it as it is because you now know it is a long term gradual process and then whenever possible replace it with a simple physical practice. The simple physical practice can be any of these or a combination of these – one long deep breath, a few minutes of rubbing your palms stop and feel the sensations in the palms, a few minutes of tapping,  simple body stretches, shoulder crossing or deep crossing to balance your energies, limbic movements to calm down your limbic systems, clearing movements to clear stuck energies, etc. 

Reach out to @selvansmentoring for help in cultivating healthy habits for a lifetime.