Neuroimaging studies have shown that if you were maltreated throughout your childhood your amydgala will be hyper activated. The extent of this hyper activation depends on the nature and duration of that maltreatment as well as what age you were.
They reckon that this is one of the precursors to developing PTSD after traumatic events as an adult. They found that PTSD sufferers have a hyperactive amygdala and the connection between that and / or the hippocampus with the frontal lobe can be dodgy.
So basically, it means that the areas of the brain which regulate emotion expression and regulation is a bit fucked up. Or, as I’ve started to see it….parts of my brain are overweight.
(Personal blog posts following several people’s journey through mindfulness and suffering. Including the unique experiences of spending time at a ‘mindfulness’ community in Thailand.)
I’ve been back to my ‘old life’ now for about 4 months….so how is it different following my immersion in a ‘mindfulness’ community – aka brain ‘fat camp’?
- I still get times where I’m so overcome with fear that I have to get away from whatever situation I’m in as fast as possible
- I still have nightmares where I wake up screaming, sweating and terrified
- I still have problems making attachments and trusting people
- I still get times where I get caught up in the past and cannot separate it from the now
- I still get so exhausted from lack of sleep that I struggle to function properly
So much for my super slim and fit brain?! This pissed me off for a while to be honest, but just as with weight loss….it’s going to take time and require a daily ongoing maintenance. The more weight you have to lose the longer it will take. They couldn’t take away my weight and stop it from coming back but they did teach me a lot of skills for maintaining that weight myself.
The main difference now to how I was before – awareness. It doesn’t sound like a big deal but it really is. I’m able to actually see what’s going on with me. Not in a way that makes me hate myself and cringe at my behaviour (really important considering the crazy shit I sometimes do!). Through this increased awareness….slowly….I can change the rest.
One neuroimaging study showed that people who show traits of mindfulness have reduced activation in the amygdala and modified gray matter in the fronto-limbic network (which includes amygdala, hippocampus, etc.)
A further study showed that practicing mindfulness changes the grey matter in these parts of the brain (as well as other parts).
Based on these studies; PTSD sufferers generally have hyper amygdala activity, people with traits of mindfulness generally have calm amygdala activity, practicing mindfulness can change the grey matter in these parts of the brain.
That means the effects of mindfulness could counteract the effects of PTSD.
Mindfulness is not the only way to achieve and maintain ‘brain weightloss’ of course, it’s just an aspect. And it’s not the only way I’m working on my PTSD right now.
But, to me, it means that no matter what my genetic predispositions and childhood / past experiences have led me to be – I can change it…
Fox, K.C.R. et al. (2014). Is meditation associated with altered brain structure? A systematic review and meta-analysis of morphometric neuroimaging in meditation practitioners. Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews. Published by Elsevier.
Song, H L. et al. (2014). The brain structure correlates of individual differences in trait mindfulness: A voxel-based morphometry study. Neuroscience. Published by Elsevier.
Admon, R. (2013). A causal model of post-traumatic stress disorder: disentangling predisposed from acquired neural abnormalities. Trends in Cognitive Sciences. Published by Cell press.