Research On The Dynamic Neural Retraining System
DrMR: Now, what kind of research is being done to validate this approach?
AH: There are two different independent research studies happening right now. One is at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. Theyve done an observational research study by following 100 people that have taken the five-day interactive training seminar. They followed them for one year, looking at various different standardized surveys, and measuring differences in symptoms and quality of life. The research is complete. They have not published the research yet, so I cant speak to that. However, I can say that if the research reflects what were seeing as individuals teaching the program, it should be really, really good.
The other independent research study is happening at the University of Calgary in Canada. Well be looking at doing functional MRIs on patients that have chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia or chemical sensitivities, or postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome, and doing a baseline functional MRI. And then doing another functional MRI at about six months post-training, to see what changes in the brain are happening, and how that is affecting quality of life and health.
DrMR: In this Calgary study, are they also going to be administering some sort of lifestyle questionnaire, or tracking symptoms to see if those parallel with the MRI changes?
DrMR: So you have a pre/post for a quality of life measure, but you dont know if they are actually doing that?
Automatic Nervous System States Of Arousal And Corresponding Emotional States
The automatic nervous system refers to actions the body takes on its own, and how it may feel for a person experiencing them.
In the more intense activation states , there is an abrupt shift to the powerfully compelling emotions of fear, rage, terror, and horror that erupt into all-out-action, immobilization, or collapse. The brain’s goal is to successfully complete the response with either fight or flight. However, when these active responses are thwarted we then move on to freeze and collapse. The biology basis for trauma occurs when a person experiences freeze and collapse.
A Downside To This Response
It would be great if anxiety and fear only occurred in situations where we were in immediate danger. Unfortunately, it does not always work this way. For example, many people have fear and anxiety when speaking in front of other people. You may also have fear and anxiety when meeting someone new. A person with PTSD may experience fear and anxiety when they go out into crowded or cramped places, such as a grocery store or a subway. These situations are not dangerous in the sense that they don’t threaten our survival. So, why might we have fear and anxiety in these situations?
We have fear and anxiety in these situations because of the way we evaluate these situations. Our body cannot always tell the difference between real and imagined threat. Therefore, when we interpret a situation as threatening, our body is going to respond as though that situation is dangerous and threatening, even if it really isn’t in actuality.
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Limbic System Fight Or Flight Response And Brain Injury Recovery
To watch a video presentation of this article, click on this link:Limbic System, Fight or Flight Response, Brain Injury Recovery Video Presentation
My friend, Mr. Ken Collins has been speaking about the need to consider how the Limbic System and the flight or flight response affects individuals living with brain injuries with regard to stress.
Understanding how stress impacts the manner in which individuals respond and relate to life plays a major role in each individuals recovery process.
The fight or flight response can be exacerbated by a number of factors in the lives of individuals living with the impact of a brain injury. The reaction to these factors, for individuals living with brain injuries can be accelerated and exacerbated by filters in the brain that have been damaged due to a brain injury.
Understanding stressors and how these stressors impact our recovery process as brain injury survivors is very important.
Understanding how these filters have been damaged due to an injury to a brain injury can be very helpful. Understanding how these damaged filters impact how individuals react to the fight or flight process can be pivotal in the individuals recovery process.
In my experience, I have found that many stressful events, evoking a fight or flight response in present day events have their origins in past events.
Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Albert Einstein
Amygdala Hijack And Mental Health
The amygdala is commonly found to be associated with mental health conditions, specifically those involving anxiety. Fear and avoidance, which are common to anxiety disorders, could be related to an overactive amygdala and more hijacks.
Hyperactivation in the amygdala was frequently observed in those with social anxiety disorder and specific phobias .
This might make sense since those with social or specific phobias often present irrational and strong emotional reactions to the things and situations they fear.
Likewise, greater amygdala activation and increased emotional responses have been observed in those with panic disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Developmental studies have found that the amygdala is particularly sensitive to stress in early life. Experiencing early life trauma or childhood mistreatment is believed to have a significant effect on the stress response .
Experiencing childhood adversity can also produce long-lasting structural and functioning changes in the amygdala, also affecting the hormones involved in the amygdala hijack.
As a result, the threshold for emotional reactions in these children is lowered due to repeated sensitization of amygdala circuits. This means that they can be overly sensitive to stressors, resulting in heightened activation of the neural circuits in stress.
It is also suggested that those who experienced childhood maltreatment were at a higher risk of developing anxiety-related disorders .
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How Does Attachment Factor In
If your caregiver generally took care of your needs and you could count on them for physical and emotional support, you probably grew up with the confidence to trust others and build healthy relationships with friends and partners.
Youll also, as Walkers theory suggests, find it mostly possible to weather stress, challenges, and other threats by reaching for the trauma response that works best in a given situation.
Living through repeated abuse, neglect, or other traumatic circumstances in childhood can make it harder to use these responses effectively.
Instead, you might find yourself stuck in one mode, coping with conflict and challenges just as you coped in childhood: favoring the response that best served your needs by helping you escape further harm.
This can, without a doubt, further complicate the process of building healthy relationships.
When youve experienced emotional abuse or physical neglect, a number of factors can affect the way you respond:
- the type of trauma
- the specific pattern of neglect and abuse
- your role in the family and relationships with other family members
- genetics, including personality traits
This response tends to show up more commonly when your caregivers:
Muscle Tone And Locomotion
RAS is a phylogenetically conserved system that modulates fight-or-flight responses. During waking, our ability to detect predator or prey is essential to survival. RAS is linked to the motor system in order to optimize attack or escape. During REM sleep, atonia keeps us from acting out our dreams. Only our diaphragm and eye muscles appear to be acting out dream content. During waking, RAS can modulate muscle tone and locomotion via reticulospinal systems. For example, in a standing individual, there is tonic activation of antigravity, mainly extensor, muscles. Before the first step can be taken, there must be flexion . The startle response, a rapid response to a supramaximal stimulus, is basically an induced flexor response, placing the body in a ready position. The startle response is composed of a short latency activation of muscle activity , followed by a brief inhibition and then a long latency activation . The intermediate latency inhibition is thought to be part of the modulation of the startle response by cholinergic RAS neurons, and it may represent a resetting of motor programs which allow the subsequent selection of response strategies the triggering of attack or escape movements.
M.G. Newman, … H. Kim, in, 2017
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How The Dnrs Program Works
DrMR: Tell us a little bit more about the DNRS program. Im sure people are wondering, is this just meditation and walks in nature? Obviously theres more to it than that. Lets help shade in some of the gray so they know what this looks like.
DrAH: Sure. Absolutely. So what I can talk about is really the five pillars of recovery with the Dynamic Neural Retraining System. It does involve some physical exercise, which combines speech, visualization, and full body movements. But the exercises are not physically demanding or strenuous.
Im going to talk about the five pillars of recovery, so that will give you an idea of what it is that we focus on.
The first pillar of recovery is recognizing that there is limbic system imbalance or impairment. That is really understanding how the brain has been impacted by trauma, and really recognizing howwhen youre stuck in that fight, flight, or freeze responseits exhibiting physically, psychologically, mentally, emotionally, and behaviorally. So its really understanding what the limbic system does, how it works when its healthy, and then what happens when that limbic system is impaired. And can you understand that, and also, does that sound familiar to you?
DrMR: Almost like facing your fears.
AH: Almost like facing your fears, but in a very particular step-by-step way, yeah.
So those are the five pillars of recovery with the Dynamic Neural Retraining System.
AH: Yeah, this is for people that are suffering themselves, correct.
Amygdala Hijack And The Fight Or Flight Response
Have you ever lost control of your emotions and did something in the heat of the moment that you later regretted? Perhaps you’ve “lost it” or blown up at someoneyour partner or child, work colleague, or perhaps the driver of another carto such a degree that later, you realized was uncalled for.
If your answer is yes, then you’ve probably been hijacked by your amygdala.
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What Happens During The Fight Or Flight Response
In response to acute stress, the bodys sympathetic nervous system is activated by the sudden release of hormones. The sympathetic nervous system then stimulates the adrenal glands, triggering the release of catecholamines .
This series of reactions leads to an increase in heart rate, blood pressure and respiratory rate.After the threat disappears, it takes 20 to 60 minutes for the body to return to its pre-awakening level.
You may remember the experience of fighting or fleeing reactions. When encountering terrible things, you will feel your heartbeat speed up, your breathing will start to speed up, your whole body becomes tense, ready to take action.
Faced with imminent physical danger or psychological threat , a fight or flight response may occur).
Physical signs that can indicate that the fight or flight response has begun include:
What Is Fight Or Flight Response
This is the bodys response to perceived threat or danger. During this reaction, certain hormones like adrenalin and cortisol are released, speeding the heart rate, slowing digestion, shunting blood flow to major muscle groups, and changing various other autonomic nervous functions, giving the body a burst of energy and strength. Originally named for its ability to enable us to physically fight or run away when faced with danger, its now activated in situations where neither response is appropriate, like in traffic or during a stressful day at work. When the perceived threat is gone, systems are designed to return to normal function via the relaxation response, but in our times of chronic stress, this often doesnt happen enough, causing damage to the body.
The fight-or-flight response, also known as the acute stress response, refers to a psychological reaction that occurs in the presence of something that is terrifying, either mentally or physically. The fight-or-flight response was first described in the 1920s by American physiologist Walter Cannon. Cannon realised that a chain of rapidly occurring reactions inside the body help mobilise the body’s resources to deal with threatening circumstances.
The fight-or-flight response is also known as the acute stress response. Essentially, the response prepares the body to either fight or flee the threat. It is also important to note that the response can be triggered due to both real and imaginary threats.
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Chronic Activation Of This Survival Mechanism Impairs Health
A stressful situation whether something environmental, such as a looming work deadline, or psychological, such as persistent worry about losing a job can trigger a cascade of stress hormones that produce well-orchestrated physiological changes. A stressful incident can make the heart pound and breathing quicken. Muscles tense and beads of sweat appear.
This combination of reactions to stress is also known as the “fight-or-flight” response because it evolved as a survival mechanism, enabling people and other mammals to react quickly to life-threatening situations. The carefully orchestrated yet near-instantaneous sequence of hormonal changes and physiological responses helps someone to fight the threat off or flee to safety. Unfortunately, the body can also overreact to stressors that are not life-threatening, such as traffic jams, work pressure, and family difficulties.
Mental Health And The Amygdala
Chronic stress and certain mental health conditions can also play a role in the functioning of fear circuitry in the brain, which can result in greater chances of amygdala hijacking.
People with post-traumatic stress disorder , for example, show greater amygdala activation and therefore, increased emotional responding including fear and anxiety responses.
People with other anxiety disorders, such as social anxiety disorder and panic disorder may also respond more strongly in their amygdala.
Even without a diagnosis of PTSD or anxiety disorder, chronic stress can lead to an overactive fear and anxiety circuit in your brain, which also reduces the functioning of other areas of the brain that help with inhibition of fear, such as the hippocampus and medial prefrontal cortex.
All of this means that chronic stress can trigger more frequent amygdala hijacks and even subsequent problems with short-term memory, which is why it is important to work on understanding and taking charge of your emotional reactions. One way to do this is through preventative work.
Learning coping mechanisms and planning ahead can positively influence how you will respond in times of stress and help avoid an amygdala-induced overreaction.
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When To Treat Your Limbic System
I want to come to the program here next. But before we go to the details of the program, do you have any thoughts on if someone is thinking, Okay, I havent taken certain steps to improve my gut health, as an example , I havent improved my diet much yet, used a probiotic, or gone through some of these simple starting point therapies for my gut, but Im suspicious that I may also have this at play. Do you recommend sequencing these?
So, before we go through the neural retraining program, lets try to get your diet and some of these basics situated first, and then this would be a consideration next? Or do you feel they should be done at the same time? Do you have any thoughts on how to best incorporate this? In an ideal world, we would do every possible therapy all at once. But when people have limited time and bandwidth and resources, I always try to help them codify where to put a given therapy in a hierarchy of options.
AH: Thats a really good question, one that I dont even know if I have a very simple answer to. Ill tell you what my thinking process is around that.
But for a lot of people, like I said, theyve done a lot of other treatments before theyve come to see us. So even though theyve addressed gut health and so forth, theyre still stuck in this chronic fight or flight state.
So even though theyve addressed gut health and so forth, theyre still stuck in this chronic fight or flight state.
AH: Yeah, absolutely.
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Dr. Ramani Durvasula is a licensed clinical psychologist, author, and expert on the impact of toxic narcissism. She is a Professor of Psychology at California State University, Los Angeles, and also a Visiting Professor at the University of Johannesburg.
The focus of Dr. Ramanis clinical, academic, and consultative work is the etiology and impact of narcissism and high-conflict, entitled, antagonistic personality styles on human relationships, mental health, and societal expectations. She has spoken on these issues to clinicians, educators, and researchers around the world.
She is the author of Should I Stay or Should I Go: Surviving a Relationship With a Narcissist, and Don’t You Know Who I Am? How to Stay Sane in an Era of Narcissism, Entitlement, and Incivility. Her work has been featured at SxSW, TEDx, and on a wide range of media platforms including Red Table Talk, the Today Show, Oxygen, Investigation Discovery, and Bravo, and she is a featured expert on the digital media mental health platform MedCircle. Dr. Durvasulas research on personality disorders has been funded by the National Institutes of Health and she is a Consulting Editor of the scientific journal Behavioral Medicine.
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