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How to Override your Lizard Brain
Have you heard about your Lizard Brain? The part of your brain designed to keep you safe? That ancient brain that evolved when we lived in an older world with predators that wanted to eat us? That part of your brain still kicks in now in the 21st century. We may not be running from saber tooth tigers but our ancient, reflexive, lizard brain reacts when we feel threatened by stress, harassment, physical or psychological abuse. When you drink you “evolve” that survival brain to see alcohol as the answer to danger.
The brain releases hormones leading to responses called fight, flight, freeze, flop or friend.
When I’m stressed I feel overwhelmed and experience a paralysis of thought, so I can freeze and struggle to make decisions, or work my way through the mess, I can also fight (get stroppy and pick arguments with e.g. other car drivers) and go into flight (dicky tummy, manic gym work, housework) and sometimes I have experienced massive fatigue (flop I guess) when an issue has been going on for a long time.
The way the lizard brain operates for Fight, Flight etc… is not always helpful for modern-day life. Brain design as such, when it is releasing hormones to deal with a situation, will not overtly distinguish between a saber tooth tiger wanting to snack on you, and say you having some work stress.
The brain can react and escalate a situation at work, a FaceBook snub, a text where an ‘x’ was omitted, to ‘crisis’ level leaving you broadly in a Fight Flight Freeze, Flop or Friend response that would work well a few thousand years ago but not so well now.
This is where alcohol and other addictive substances and behaviours have filled a gap so powerfully to help us deal with modern life. This is why for many alcohol can become habit-forming, because when these trauma behaviours hit, they are very uncomfortable and we don’t really have an appropriate outlet. We don’t often run for our lives so we might grind our teeth for months causing headaches (think this is due to lactic acid building up in the temporalis) as well as toothache. Alcohol can ‘dampen’ these uncomfortable responses very quickly.
We need to train ourselves to climb down a bit from a bad situation and look at it objectively.
We need to train ourselves to sit quietly and evaluate the situation for what it really is.
This can be tricky when the paranoid boozer in us gets involved.
When we get a craving it may be tied to a trigger – this might be real or you might manufacture it. I self-sabotaged when I was drinking and I always told myself ‘that was a hideous day at work ! – It wasn’t. It was normal or even fine but I had to legitimize my drinking so saying it was ‘fine’ wouldn’t do. IT WAS HIDEOUS! STRESS!
I had to learn to surf the urge when I found my lizard brain demanding the alcohol that I had taught it was the answer to stress.
Take the time to take 1 minute, 5 minutes, one hour, two hours, one day at a time and surf that urge. Eat, meditate, walk, wash up, wash the car whatever it takes but look at what is happening with curiosity – that will bring the response down to something that is manageable. Is this a life-threatening situation? Will alcohol really solve the dilemma? and if it is still really hard it will fizzle out of it’s own accord after 2 to 2.5 hours or so.
When you drink habitually, not only does your brain learn that it needs alcohol to survive, but the withdrawal symptoms that you suffer when you stop can cause anxiety, stress, depression, and fear. That empty nervous feeling that at first, can only be appeased by adding back the alcohol.
So learn about your brain and how it’s been changed by drinking. You can reverse the damage done and move forward to thrive rather than just survive! Mind Your Lizard Brain: Understanding and Controlling a Sometimes Problematic Part of Our Brains.
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