Our Troublesome Amygdala & How Meditation Can Help Shrink It

The amygdala is the part of the brain that is responsible for setting the alarms bells off when the brain senses danger. This amygdala is primal and it is said that it hasn’t yet adapted to modern day living. When humans were hunter gatherers, this amygdala was extremely effective, aiding us when we had to run from predators for the sake of survival.

In modern day society, this sensitive amygdala can be problematic, as we don’t face life threatening situations as often as what we might have when we were living in the wild.

Research suggests that we can shrink this amygdala through things like mindfulness meditation. If we manage to shrink the amygdala, this creates less of an issue as it becomes less dominant over other parts of our brain that are responsible for reason and logic.

This is important, as we need reason and logic to help with making sense of situations through the process of thought. If we are completely ruled by our primal emotions, this can lead to things like chronic stress, where by our emotions run their course longer and more aggressively than what is required for survival – This can leads to illness in the mind and body.

My ADHD Brain

Scans to measure blood flow and activity in the brain suggest that when you focus on a task, the part of your brain responsible for focus – the prefrontal cortex increases its level of blood flow in that region of the brain.

For someone with ADHD, when one focuses on a task, the prefrontal cortex reacts in the opposite way, decreasing blood flow to this region of the brain. Perhaps, this explains the deficit in attention, or lack of focus that one with ADHD will experience.

I have recently been given a diagnosis of ADHD by a psychiatrist.

It’s something I have suspected for many years now, however this particular type of ADHD is difficult to diagnose, and a lot of people go their whole lives with an undiagnosed mental condition that they suffer for.

A common mistake is to confuse an inattentive type of ADHD with other conditions like major depressive disorder and bipolar disorder.

There are various types of ADHD, and the most well known one is the stereotype of the hyperactive child with behavioural issues. These people with ADHD get a diagnosis during early years of life. However, there are other forms where some people go a whole lifetime without a proper diagnosis. This can cause a lot of issues in career, relationships and health – life in general.

This more subtle type of ADHD often goes unnoticed because these people don’t display the stereotypical symptoms. This other type is usually referred to as inattentive ADHD, and often involves a lot of day dreaming, lack of focus and issues with mood.

We are now learning that there are up to 7 different types of ADHD today. Taking both psychological and physiological aspects into account, scans from Amen Clinics in the US suggest 7 different types of ADHD based off blood flow and activity in the brain. Certain types of ADHD brains showed overactivity in the limbic system of the brain – the control centre for our emotions, which was associated with a depressive/mood type of ADHD. Other scans revealed overactivity in the cortex, which was associated with an anxious type of ADHD.

Although an ADHD brain can usually cause a lot of problems for ones life, there are also many advantages. ADHD brains are usually very creative, and this may have to do with the amount of time one with ADHD can spend day dreaming.

Nutrition For Your Nervous System

The Nervous system is extremely complex and vital for our survival and functioning of every day life.

Broken down into its sub parts, the nervous system is a complex collection of nerves that transmit signals and messages between different parts of the body.

Your sense of touch, smell, taste, site and sound are all tools that are used to help send messages of information to your brain. These sensory tools are part of what sends these messages to the brain for further evaluation.

Once the brain or spinal cord has decided what to do in response to the information that was collected from the sensory input, it sends out signals via motor neurons, which trigger you to move your body in response.

Take a spider that lands on your head, as an example scenario. The spider touches your skin, and this information gathered from your sense of touch travels to the brain. The brain will register this as a foreign, scary object on your head, and it will react by sending signals via motor neurons to your body parts, causing you to jump, scream and throw it away.

In order to maintain a healthy, fully functioning nervous system, there are certain foods that can be eaten;

🥗 Green leafy vegetables – Containing Vitamin B, C, E & Magnesium. Specifically, Vitamin B aids in the circulation of neurotransmitters, the chemical messengers that get passed on throughout the brain and body.

🐟 Fish – Omega 3 fatty acid helps with the healing and repair of nerve cells.

🍫 Dark Chocolate – Contains flavonols which have anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties.

🥦 Broccoli – Rich in a compound called glucosinolates which can slow the breakdown of the neurotransmitter, acetylcholine, which the central nervous system needs to perform its function properly.

🥚 Eggs – Rich in choline. When eaten, the choline is used by the brain to make acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter important for memory and communication among nerve cells.

🍣 Salmon – High in Omega 3 fatty acids, which help in healing and repair of nerves.

🥜 Nuts are high in anti-oxidants and Vitamin E, which helps shield cell membranes from free radical damage.

Social Facilitation & The New Sporting Landscape

Since covid, we have witnessed some drastic changes in how things are done.

The area of sport is one of interest, as the dynamics of many sporting events have changed as a result of these restrictions.

When the NRL first kicked off this year, there were no crowds in the stand. I enjoyed this because with the absence of a noisy crowd, you were able to hear the impact of the bodies on the field. There were so many hard knocks that shook me through the tv, and I thought this new set up was great.

Then, I began to learn more about things like sports and social psychology. An interesting topic we touched on is referred to as ‘social facilitation’, which states that the presence of people enhances ones performance when that person is good at a particular skill.

It’s not clear just how much of an impact that the absence of a crowd has on professional athletes performance, however going off the principle of social facilitation, this absence of crowds may play a negative role in athletic performance.

I haven’t watched many other sports besides the rugby league, and although I did not notice a drop in performance by the footy stars when there were no crowds, it makes me wonder what the players have to say about it in terms of their own psychology; their motivations, their drive, their passion, their focus.

Either way, I think it’s safe to say that the absence of a crowd is unideal for any sport. For the sake of sporting fans, the business side of sport and the motivation of the athletes who are competing, there is nothing like a good old crowd making noise in support.

I recall playing a season of footy when I was 19 years old, and there was nothing like running on to the field at a home game and hearing the noise of the supporters cheer you on. The adrenaline rush it gave you was enough to make you step on to that field motivated to gift your supporters with a win.

A Journey Into The World Of Mental Health

Today I had therapy and next week I will be seeing my psychiatrist for an appointment. Over the years, I’ve seen a number of therapists and psychiatrists who’ve given me multiple diagnoses from; bipolar disorder to major depressive disorder and generalised anxiety disorder.

Each condition requires a unique set of medication treatments.

The main obstacle faced in mental health today is that diagnosis and treatment is all based off the intangibles.

Unlike a physical ailment in which we can see, touch and treat, mental ailments don’t work in the same black and white fashion. We don’t look at the brain when diagnosing or treating, and so it makes this area a very grey one.

Although we have technologies such as the SPECT (single photon emission computed tomography) scan, these technologies are not yet available to mainstream psychiatric practices.

Moving forward, I feel like being able to actually observe the physical structure of the brain will give us better insights into what is going inside someone’s brain, allowing room for a more accurate diagnosis and treatment plan.

If the brain is like a computer, than thoughts and emotions are like the software, and things like electrical activity and blood flow inside the brain are part of the hardware. Although these mental illnesses involve mental, emotional and behavioural events for those who experience them, there is always an underlying physical cause.

Evidence of this can be found through the example of a condition referred to as hypofrontality – a state of decreased blood flow in a region of the brain called the prefrontal cortex. This can be a symptom of such mental illnesses as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and major depressive disorder.

Without actually peering inside the brain, most of this becomes a guessing game and that’s what makes this whole process a tricky one.

It’s important to find professionals who you trust and who genuinely care for your well-being. It’s also important to do your own research so you can go that extra mile for yourself. Treatment and recovery can be a slow, grueling and sometimes frustrating process. But you can find joy and purpose in many parts of it.

My Battle With Depression

This year has been extremely difficult for me and my mental health. I came back from Cambodia and my world shook from the change, and then covid hit and my world shook even more.

For someone susceptible to mental illness, instances such as these are more than enough to tip one over the edge.

This year, I’ve experienced some of the most intense depression I can remember in a long time. Anxiety has been high, and if I’m not feeling nervous or worried about the future, I’m feeling flat, down and in the dumps.

The month of August was tough. I spent most of the time in a very ordinary state and I dipped dramatically for a period of a couple of days.

During those days of depression, you are stuck not being able to do anything. You can’t work or study because your brain is mush. You don’t exercise or socialise because there is no motivation to do so and it requires far too much effort to even get yourself out of bed.

I spend those days sitting in my car, ruminating in negative and sometimes morbid thought. I do my best to sleep it off and let the time just pass me by so the pain can subside.

The day after, your body feels exhausted. It’s like you have run a marathon without even moving a limb. Your body has taken that much of a beating, you feel sleepy and lethargic for days afterwards.

It’s come time now that I see a psychiatrist for a new medication plan.

I believe in a holistic approach to any health condition, and so this has also lead me down the path of moving into yoga retreat, where I will spend the next month working and living amongst a spiritual community on the south coast.

A lifestyle that consists of clean vegan eating, a strong daily yoga practice and some good social support with new people – I can only hope that this improves my condition in time.

I have hesitated with posting this as it is personal, however I think it’s important to raise awareness for mental health.

This experience with mental illness has been the catalyst for my scientific endeavour as a psych student, and has been the driving force behind the content I create and if I can reach out and resonate with anyone else suffering, then I feel like I’ve done something good.

One thing I’ve learned recently is, purpose and meaning are the two most important things when trying to ride a rough wave like depression. If you can attribute some sort of meaning to your pain and you can find purpose in it, it helps you ride those waves.

My purpose and meaning is all around wanting to one day help those suffering and with the wisdom and experience I gain through this journey, hopefully I can one day do a great job with that.

Now let’s raise awareness for mental health


It’s Time For Societal Change – Crisis Calls For Revolution

With the earth shattering changes we have seen in 2020, it’s forcing us to come up with new ways of looking at things and how we approach them – whether that may be in our education system or in our sciences.

Old paradigms are collapsing, and new ones are being forced to emerge, as we try and navigate our way through these unprecedented times in one piece.

With crisis comes revolution – this is something that is way overdue.

We are starting to learn that our traditional approaches to medicine are outdated, causing more problems than what they are fixing. Humanity is currently sick, and it’s a sign that the way we have been doing things is redundant and sometimes wrong.

For decades now, we have been diagnosing symptoms and prescribing medications in accordance to those symptoms, but we are now learning that this leaves too much room for error and potentially further harm.

There is a shift now, where professionals are starting to take more holistic approaches towards treatment, getting to the root cause of symptoms, rather than simply treating them.

I’ve been seeing psychiatrists for many years now for all sorts of mental health conditions, such as; bipolar disorder, major depressive disorder and generalised anxiety disorder.

I’ve experienced traumas in my life, and genetically speaking, the odds haven’t been stacked in my favour in respect to some of the diagnoses I’ve been handed.

However, I’ve always had an issue with the system and it’s processes. It’s been all about diagnosing symptoms, putting you in a box and prescribing the respective medication for that box.

Never was I told to get my microbiome checked – potentially because this is a new and emerging field with a lot of good data, but not yet enough attention.

Hence why times like these are blessings, because they force the collapse of the systems that are no longer working, and they breed new insights, approaches and perspectives on some of the most pressing issues we face in our general health care.

Conventional medicine says –

Everyone is treated the same and your diagnosis in based on your symptoms. You get placed in a box and prescribed meds to treat your condition. We mask the symptoms with medications and then hope that everything will be fine

New and improved functional medicine says –

We take a holistic approach, we don’t only look at symptoms of a disease, but also the underlying factors that may be causing this disease, we take into account biochemical individuality (because we are all different), and rather than mask symptoms with medications, we put preventative measures in place to avoid the issue at hand.

For me, this is an exciting time to be coming into the sciences. Textbooks will undergo changes in content, as we uncover new bits of data and we develop new paradigms around these new insights.

As a whole, we are experiencing some radical changes in the way we do things and this is a positive thing moving forward – Crisis calls for revolution.

Back To School – The Second Time Around

I have been back to study for 2 weeks now, and this time back feels a lot different to when I first arrived to the University of Wollongong as an 18 year old.

In an introductory course of psychology, so far I’ve learned about sports and exercise psychology. Sport psychology may include things like; performance, mental stamina, leadership, flow states, stress management, coaching, team cohesion and even grief, in the case of career transitions – all athletes will experience these transitions at some point.

Exercise psychology differs, as it involves the psychology behind; exercise, motivation, mental health benefits of exercise and mental health issues as a result of a lack of exercise.

My second subject is all around statistics and research. Statistics can be found anywhere from the amount of likes you get for a Facebook post to the NRL scoreboard on your tv screen.

This subject is all about gathering data and then learning how to organise it, measure it with things like; averages or medians – does ‘median wage’ sound familiar to you? These are the tools we use to find patterns in the numbers, so we can measure them, gather information from them and use them to make predictions about things.

One thing I thoroughly enjoy doing is learning something new and then applying that new knowledge to a real life context.

I have been tracking many things from my; resting heart rate, heart rates during times of high activity, sleep cycles, steps walked, calories burned, BMI, body weight, muscle mass, water mass, body fat, mood and on occasions my heart rate variability (HRV).

I have spent months collecting this data, not knowing what the hell to do with it.

I’ve flooded myself with all of these statistics, now it’s time to learn how to do something practical with them.

Being able to apply the concepts learned in this course to some of the statistics on myself has been a fun endeavour, thus far. It’s probably going to make me want to track way more than what I do already. I’ve considered making a personal investment into brain tracking devices, but I think I will leave those ones for a later date. For now, I like to focus on tracking my moods as a priority. I am finding the data from that really useful and I love the process of making entries, multiple times a day.

I get a huge enjoyment out of collecting data on myself. We are the most sophisticated organism on the planet. Our abilities to not only see things but to also control them is uncanny, and so I want to learn more about this impressive biological mechanism we call the “human being”.

The Process Of Learning How To Learn

In a course titled, ‘Learning how to learn’ – by professor Barbara Oakley, we learn some of the best approaches one can take during the process of learning something new.

Gone are the days of those “12 hour study benders”, none of which I actually did. They were more like, 6 hours of cramming and the other 6 just fucking around – either mindlessly scrolling through material or just straight day dreaming about unrelated things, like the stresses in my life or what alcoholic or non alcoholic drink I wanted for that night (coffee was a big one in the non alcoholic department).

The whole concept of cramming is ineffective and impractical, in many ways.

You expend unnecessary energy in the process of cramming and this is because of the two modes, both requiring your attention.

You want to be able to go into focused modes of thinking, in the case of first seeing something like a fact, concept or procedure.

In order to understand the new thing that you are learning, your mind will focus you onto that thing, but it requires concentration because it’s a new skill.

Think back to your first drive in a car. Your mind was not working the same way as it does today. You had to think every step through with focus, concentration and perhaps a bit of anxiety. The mind was rigid in that state.

It’s not until you step away from that focused mode of thinking into a more relaxed and open mode of thinking – the diffuse mode, where your mind can dig a little deeper and make connections with things you have learned in the past.

Another important thing that is emphasised in this course is the technique of spaced repetition. When you first learn something, put it away and come back to it in a few days and review it, then put it away and come back a few days after that, and repeat.

You are continuously coming back to the same thing, but you increase the time intervals between each review. That way, everything is always being refreshed, even if it’s just lightly. By the time you finish, you won’t have to cram a damn thing. You would have provided enough time for your brain to go into both focused modes and the diffused modes, where it can relax and dig deeper into your psyche in order to make new and improved connections.

🧱 Learning new things is like laying bricks. You can lay some, but it’s best to walk away and let the mortar dry properly before you return to lay more.

One thing I have found the most interesting so far is the pomodoro technique – 25 minutes of focused mode thinking, and take a break for a few minutes, and repeat.

If we use the brain as a muscle analogy, this reminds me of weights training, or even HIIT (high intensity interval training). You do your reps, then rest – repeat. During the time of your reps, you are expending energy, contracting and stretching your muscles. This is the way you build those muscles – tear and repair.

With this technique, you are far less likely to suffer from the fatigue that would come after trying to go for an hour or two of straight study. You sustain your energy over a longer period, and you put in your reps.

This is the same principle that can be applied to learning – this pomodoro technique of 25 minute intervals of focused learning. Consider them as short sprint training sessions for the mind.

My Problem With Buddhism

I’m a massive proponent of diversification – spread yourself thin and explore the many options available to you.

This may be why I’ve had a little trouble with Buddhism, in recent times.

I’ve spent the last 5 years studying Buddhism, and studying the mind respectively – which Buddhism claims not to be a religion but a study of the mind.

However, through my own personal experiences have come some of my own philosophical questions about life and I feel as though I may have come to a road block in respect to Buddhism.

To say that the philosophy of Buddhism, along with its esoteric practices like mindfulness meditation have aided me in many facets of life would be a major understatement. It inspired me to go down many paths, both spiritual and scientific.

However, remaining firm to one philosophy or one practice goes against my value for diversity and this is starting to reveal itself in my world.

I have two issues with Buddhism, and I am trying to work out whether it’s a flaw in its system, or a flaw in my own thinking – perhaps, many misinterpretations as a result of my naivety.

The number one pillar of Buddhism states that – life is suffering.

I’ve struggled with this lately, as I feel like it’s a huge blanket statement. It’s not that I disagree with the statement, it’s that I think it’s overly generalised in many senses.

To say that life is suffering is to rule out any other possibility or description of life. While there is a lot of suffering, there is also an equal amount of progress being made in the world.

If I make a reference to the Chinese proverb of the vinegar tasters – Lao Tzu, Confucius and the Buddha are all tasting vinegar from a pot. Their reactions to the vinegar is a representation of the respective philosophy.

In the story, the Buddha tastes the vinegar and reacts as if the vinegar is bitter or sour – as if to say life is bitter and there is suffering everywhere due to our desires.

Lao Tzu seems to be the only one of the bunch to taste the vinegar and react as if it’s sweet, implying that life is perfect in its natural state.

Again, this general blanket statement that “life is suffering” is not something that I necessarily contest with, however I think it has the potential to cast a bitter view on the world.

When the Buddha went on his journey of enlightenment, he was sitting under a tree when he came to the realisation that all suffering occurs due to our desires.

When you think about that sense of dissatisfaction we all feel, and that longing for things to be different to the way they are, you can see how some of our desires can lead to mental and emotional suffering. When you desire for things to be different to the way they are, you are resisting what is before you. This causes tension – mental and emotional suffering.

However, can we say that all desire causes suffering?

You are a life form, just like the other forms of life that surround you in the environment. Every life form wants to be full fledged lives. Every life form wants to reach its full potential. With this comes the desire to live and to thrive.

How can suffering be a product of life’s desire to survive and thrive? It’s when our desires become compulsive where we find suffering, but if we desire for things consciously, then this is not suffering, this is life trying to reach its full potential.

Does this mean it’s the end of the road for me and my study of Buddhism – of course not. However, it supports my value of diversifying yourself. You want to be able to take away good things, and reject the things that don’t work for you and then find things that can be of a better fit.

What this means is, my intrigue with other philosophies will deepen, as I attempt to find answers to the questions that fit best for me.

To conclude, I will state that I advocate for no one philosophy, religion or esoteric practice. I advocate for diversity, openness and curiosity.

There are both golden nuggets and flaws in every system. It’s up to your own sense of curiosity and openness to find those things and then decide for yourself.