Torre DeRoche, 37, had always lived in dread, fearing everything from random sinkholes to global catastrophe.
Then a series of terrible things actually did happen: DeRoche’s father died of metastasized colon cancer in 2014, and her longtime boyfriend broke up with her at the height of her grief — just months after she published a memoir of the couple’s happy relationship.
The devastating experiences only deepened her anxiety…
Vapnitchnaia, a spunky Russian-American woman whom DeRoche had met years earlier at an industry event, had spontaneously invited DeRoche to join her on a 221-mile pilgrimage through Italy.
It wasn’t an easy sell for the self-described worrywart.
“I was scared of snakes, I was scared of men, I was scared of animals, I was scared of what [all that walking] would do to my body … and then there was the fear of taking so much time off work and running out of money,” she says of her concerns at the time. “It’s really a question of what I wasn’t afraid of.”
With Vapnitchnaia’s encouragement, DeRoche agreed to tag along, setting out in July 2014 with the resolve to face her fears one day at a time.
To her surprise, the grueling exertion set her mind at ease.
There are two ways to defuse excess amygdala. One is recalibration. You jump into a stressful environment, which throws you into high amygdala. After a while, you will have normalized the high amygdala, and it will feel normal. That will render your initial state far less stressful. If, along the way you can focus on the sensation of amygdala, and teach yourself to experience it as a positive strengthening experience you want, it will be even more effective.
The second method is to engage in distraction through focus. If you have a job immediately in front of you which absorbs your focus entirely, that produces an amygdala with no excess capacity to worry. Over time, that will become a more established cognitive state.
This is partly what people are trying to do with in-the-moment exercises. You focus on taking in the blueness of the sky, and for a moment your amygdala is absorbed, and cannot focus on worry. The problem with it is, it is just a temporary escape into a pleasure which recalibrates your amygdala the wrong way. When you pop out of it your worries will seem worse and you will crave escape more.
The advantage to a work-based distraction is that the distraction is mildly unpleasant, and then yields a pay off. It performs the same function as recalibrating while focusing on the amygdala sensation and visualizing it as building you up, to associate positive perceptions with it. With such a work-based distraction you endure the unpleasantness with an eye on the payoff of the accomplishment, and it creates the same association.
But all amygdala needs to be met head on. Avoiding it, as we see colleges and society allowing people to do every day is to create a society of unsatisfiable neurotics. It is unfair to us, and to them, because we have to deal with them, as they are tormented every day, more by their amygdala than we could ever do.
As we ride to Apocalypse do not fear amygdala. Every instance of amygdala is building you up, and making you stronger.
Now if only we can bring that message to the rest of society.