When we injure our brain, we injure an important part of our body. Our brains control our ability to think, talk, move, and breathe. In addition to being responsible for our senses, emotions, memory, and personality, our brain allows every part of our body to function even when we’re sleeping.
The brain can be hijacked by the Amygdala in the limbic system after our brain injuries as outlined in this source:
Wikipedia: Daniel Goleman speaks about Amygdala hiijacking – Amygdala hijack is a term coined by Daniel Goleman in his 1996 book Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ. Drawing on the work of Joseph E. LeDoux, Goleman uses the term to describe emotional responses from people which are immediate and overwhelming, and out of measure with the actual stimulus because it has triggered a much more significant emotional threat. From the thalamus, a part of the stimulus goes directly to the amygdala while another part is sent to the neocortex or “thinking brain”. If the amygdala perceives a match to the stimulus, i.e., if the record of experiences in the hippocampus tells the amygdala that it is a fight, flight or freeze situation, then the amygdala triggers the HPA (hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal) axis and hijacks the rational brain. This emotional brain activity processes information milliseconds earlier than the rational brain, so in case of a match, the amygdala acts before any possible direction from the neocortex can be received. If, however, the amygdala does not find any match to the stimulus received with its recorded threatening situations, then it acts according to the directions received from the neo-cortex. When the amygdala perceives a threat, it can lead that person to react irrationally and destructively.
Goleman states that “[e]motions make us pay attention right now — this is urgent – and gives us an immediate action plan without having to think twice. The emotional component evolved very early: Do I eat it, or does it eat me?” The emotional response “can take over the rest of the brain in a millisecond if threatened.”HYPERLINK “http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amygdala_hijack”%5B5%5D An amygdala hijack exhibits three signs: strong emotional reaction, sudden onset, and post-episode realization if the reaction was inappropriate.
Goleman later emphasized that “self-control is crucial …when facing someone who is in the throes of an amygdala hijack” so as to avoid a complementary hijacking – whether in work situations, or in private life. Thus for example ‘one key marital competence is for partners to learn to soothe their own distressed feelings…nothing gets resolved positively when husband or wife is in the midst of an emotional hijacking.' The danger is that “when our partner becomes, in effect, our enemy, we are in the grip of an ‘amygdala hijack’ in which our emotional memory, lodged in the limbic center of our brain, rules our reactions without the benefit of logic or reason…which causes our bodies to go into a ‘fight or flight’ response.”.
Understanding the role stress plays on triggering the limbic system fight or flight response is critical for people to learn about after our brain injuries. Brain injuries are often described as either traumatic or acquired based on the cause of the injury.
Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is an insult to the brain, not of a degenerative or congenital nature, which is caused by an external physical force that may produce a diminished or altered state of consciousness, and results in an impairment of cognitive abilities or physical functioning. It can also result in the disturbance of behavioral or emotional functioning.
A TBI can affect our ability to, think and solve problems, move our body and speak, and control our behavior, emotions, and reactions.
Acquired brain injuries are caused by many medical conditions, including strokes, encephalitis, aneurysms, anoxia (lack of oxygen during surgery, drug overdose, or near drowning), metabolic disorders, meningitis, and brain tumors.
Although the causes of brain injury differs, the effects of these injuries on a person’s life are quite similar.
This is why understanding about the consequences of stress on the limbic system after a brain injury is so important.
Understanding the Sympathetic Nervous System in the brain injury recovery process is seldom talked about to us after our brain injuries by doctors or health care professionals because they only treat the symptoms.
The following information is critical to understand and has great value for people with brain injuries and their families to understand.
The Sympathetic Nervous System – “limbic system is autonomic” and creates many problems people with brain injuries face during our recovery process. If people with brain injuries don’t understand the Sympathetic Nervous System and how it works – our family members and friends react to our emotions and unwittingly create more stress for us for us to deal with.
This stress triggers the “limbic system’s fight or flight response” into action.
We do not have any control over what we are reacting to because of the stress that is being generated by our emotions shuts down the thinking part of our brain – pre-frontal cortex.
What happens next is – we react and they react, the stress builds and we lose control, get angry and have emotional meltdowns or worse.
During any stressful situation our loved ones react to our “actions” and we react to theirs – which increases our stress during those hard and difficult times.
We (family members/ people with brain injuries and friends) get caught up in a reactionary mode instead of being proactive to keep the limbic system in check.
If we set up daily routines, have structure and find purpose and meaning in our lives we have a better chance of controlling stress and the situations that trigger the limbic system fight or flight response.
If we do not control the stress, our families and friends will constantly be reacting to issues we have little control over. Learning relaxation techniques like mindfulness-based stress reduction can help to stay calm so the limbic system is managed.
Mindfulness-based stress reduction can help with this and I encourage you to look this up on the internet because there is a lot to learn about this tool that can help us rebuild or lives after a brain injury.
After our brain injuries “emotional outbursts, anger, and memory issues” are an expression of the problems caused by our limbic system fight or flight response under stress. By understanding how our emotions can get out of control we will have a better understanding of why we react to things that don’t make any sense to us.
There is a reason for all this madness and by learning the role the sympathetic nervous system plays in our recovery, the better chance we have to live full and rewarding lives again – after our brain injuries!