A 50 year old woman remembers the time she tried out for the cheerleading team in high school and didn’t make the cut.
Scenario one: She says it broke her heart and she cried for a week straight when it happened. She then chuckles, and starts talking about the dance team she joined in college.
Scenario two: The same 50-year-old woman tells you she didn’t make the cheerleading squad in high school, and tries to hide that her voice is wavering and her eyes are beginning to water.
What causes the difference between these two experiences when recalling a memory?
In the first scenario, the temporal lobe of the brain was stimulated when remembering the unfulfilled cheerleading dream. In the second scenario, a part of the brain known as the amygdala was involved.
The amygdala has been shown in research to perform a primary role in the processing of memory and emotional reactions. As part of the limbic system, the amygdala has also been associated with aggression.
Here are some amazing strategies to move memories out of the amygdala.
One way to move emotions from the amygdala is through a type of movement known as bilateral cross-crawl. This refers to a type of movement wherein the right arm and left leg come forward at the same time, and then the left arm and right leg come forward. In other words: walking. Other activities that involve bilateral cross-crawl include cross-country skiing, ice skating, roller skating, crawling, snow shoeing, and swimming the crawl stroke.
This works not only for acute situations (eg: “I can’t believe my boss asked me to work a double on Saturday, I should call her up and give her a piece of my mind!”), but also for any memory that triggers an emotion (eg: “I am so sad about my father dying, even though it was over 20 years ago.”) This makes walking and jogging great exercise choices for when you need to blow off some steam.
An essential piece of bilateral cross-crawl involves swinging the arms during walking. Because it can be difficult to get a full arm swing if you’re carrying a purse, messenger bag, of briefcase, you may want to consider leaving your bag at home, or switching to a backpack or hip pack (what we call a “fanny pack” in the USA, much to the humor of other English-speaking cultures). This will not only help you get more out of your walking time, but will also be gentler on your back and shoulders in the long run.
Another method to help move emotional memories from the amygdala to the temporal lobe includes REM sleep – yet another reason to get eight hours a night and see a naturopathic doctor if you’re having sleep trouble.
A therapy known as emotional freedom technique (EFT), which involves tapping different parts of the body while repeating certain phrases, is also helpful for resolving both quelling recent and long-term anger, phobias, and sadness. I love doing EFT with people in the office and on video calls, and teaching them how to do it at home, too.
So… keep on walking, get your zzz’s, and see your integrative doctor!