Back to School Stress Busters: Part 3

“Don’t make your amygdala any bigger” I tell my children (and myself) when stress is high. Then, like clock-work, comes their response: “Daddy, we know….to you everything is about the amygdala,” and then we have a good laugh.

Do you and your children know the vital importance ofkeeping your amygdala the size God desires? If not, please keep reading.

Before we go further here is a full disclosure: I think if kids can learn a phrase like “to infinity and beyond” a kid can learn parts of the brain at an early age because it will help them for the rest of their life! In this blog lets talk about two parts of the brain that are physically connected: the amygdala and the hippocampus.

The amygdala is a small almond shaped part of the brain that is critically important for emotional learning and strong emotions like fear or aggression. The amygdala highlights negative emotions and increases stress hormones in our brain and body, this is hard wired and keeps us alive in emergencies. The problem comes when we make everything an emergency and get stressed out over the small things in life and never allow the brain to “re-set” itself and relax.

The hippocampus is a major memory center and involved in all thoughts, it is physically connected to the amygdala. That is important because as stress increases and if we don’t take time to de-stress the amygdala can actually get larger! As the amygdala gets larger, the hippocampus gets smaller!

Unchecked stress can literally make the part of the brain that says “fear” become larger, while the part of the brain that tries to help in thinking is shrinking. Are you seeing anything wrong with this picture?

When we don’t take time to de-stress our amygdala can actually get larger from the stress hormones, and before we know it the hippocampus becomes smaller our memory and some thought processes can get slower and slower. So what do we do? We make daily de-stress time a priority.

So how can we de-stress: name it, re-frame it, and tame it (read part 1 about teaching our kids to de-stress), deep breathing (part 2), daily laughter, excersize (which creates calming chemicals in our brain), playing MarioKart with your children (especially when I win), always see things in perspective: when we do it keeps the amygdala in check, tell yourself positive truths of who you are: you are a child of God and God loves you, and make sure you never send yourself negative messages…that will only serve the amygdala.

One last tip to lower stress, and it is the most important: pray every day and devote time to just sit and let God love you! God is so in love with us, we are God’s children. When we recognize and act on this basic truth we can help to de-stress every day, and then we can teach our children to do the same.

So tonight, instead of turning on the Ipad, TV, laptop, Ipod, or anything else with a screen on it, just simply sit down and let God love you by sitting quietly and telling yourself over and over again that “I am God’s child and I am good.”

God bless our efforts in keeping our amygdala the size that God intended. Peace.


Further reading:  Back To School Stress Busters: Part 1,  Back To School Stress Busters: Part 2