Lizard Brain and the Importance of Mindfulness




Hello again everyone! I’ve had an interesting experience this week that made me think of all of you…. What you don’t know is that your therapist is ALWAYS thinking of ways to make things better, to relate to you, or making associations like “oh! This could help my clients!” I digress, but I thought of you this week!

So, I got a new pet this week: A brand new baby ball Python! His name is Sssterling (after Sterling Archer) and he is awesome! Now, I am not afraid of snakes, but my “lizard brain” is. I had a really interesting experience regarding this: I’ve always wanted a snake, but they also make me a little nervous. I held him at the pet store and my family loved him, so he came home with us. Honestly, I ADORE him! But I’ve found that when I hold him, my skin crawls a little, my muscles tighten, I have the urge to throw him across the room, and my brain screams “kill it! Kill it with fire!” So then, I had to remind my brain that I know this snake, Pythons aren’t poisonous or venomous and don’t usually bite, he’s too small to harm me, and I like him. I then realized that it was lizard brain and logic brain arguing! Then, the scientist in me was fascinated!

For those who haven’t read my post on the physiology of PTSD. You can do so here: https://catherinemcounseling.com/2017/01/24/why-ptsd-is-not-just-a-mental-issue/

It’s a good primer for what I’m about to talk about, because I’m building from that.

“Lizard brain” is the limbic cortex. It’s the primal brain. It’s part that freaks out, screams, and runs away/pees itself/freezes in place, whatever response your particular biology is programmed to do. The rest of the brain is online when you aren’t in danger. When you're in danger, it goes offline and lets lizard brain takeover. As an aside, if you ever get a chance to see an uncomfortable snake, it’s pretty interesting. He literally has the limbic cortex problems we do: when he didn’t have enough hidey holes, he was moving about in his cage quickly, climbing, breathing fast, couldn't get comfortable, and was overall stressed out. Thankfully, I do this enough that I recognized it. It’s the same in any species. (He’s fine now btw)

My point is that you CAN get to a place where you are in control and Lizard brain doesn’t take all of the power. (This is barring emergency situations where you *let it do what it’s supposed to do!*) Which is what I was noticing when holding Sssterling and when he was freaking out in his cage.

What does this have to do with Mindfulness?

Mindfulness is the term we use for the techniques we teach to bring attention to the present moment. In so many psychological problems, including PTSD, the person suffering isn’t fully present. By present, I mean fully experiencing the moment. I know that I am VERY guilty of constantly being in my head- I’m always thinking of something, processing, or just mentally elsewhere. So, I’ve had to practice what I preach. Mindfulness uses techniques like meditation, breathing, “noticing,” and other techniques to keep you in the current moment. Mindfulness is one of the first things that I ask any of my clients to practice. In utilizing these techniques, the client becomes more aware of what is going on. It has the added benefit of also affecting the physical components of these ailments: it brings down the stress hormones, slows down the neurotransmitters that tell the brain the body is in danger, relaxes the muscles, saturates the blood with oxygen, releases endorphins, decreases activation in the panic parts of the brain, and increases activation in the more comfortable parts of the brain. Mindfulness is the reason I was able to actually be present in the moment and be fully aware that lizard brain was panicking for no reason. I was able to consciously keep my reasoning brain online and maintain control. I practice what I preach, and what I teach my clients because it works. If you’re realizing that you’re struggling with lizard brain, let’s work together to get you some tools so that you can maintain control.  You don't have to stay stuck.