Navigating a Limbic Storm

First a caveat. This is not to replace a diagnosis or to treat a serious problem without the help of a therapist. It is a help to get you out of a tight spot and help you to be able to think.

The term Limbic Storm describes being stuck in a flashback, being triggered or any state in which you feel trapped and unable to think. You may feel that are thinking and these thoughts just make it worse: in fact you feel trapped by them. They are like broken records; ruminations lacking the power to offer you options, and options are what you need at this point.

The Limbic System is the emotional brain and the area from which that state is controlled. One is often buffeted by intense, frequently conflicting emotions. It feels as though one is trapped in an emotional storm without a compass or rudder as a guide. One feels unable to think clearly, in the present. In fact what one is missing is presence, being in the present time. One is trapped in the past and might not know it.

The limbic system is the part of the brain concerned with emotions. It comprises the amygdala, hippocampus, a portion of the thalamus, and the nucleus accumbens. It provides the means for sudden preparation to run or fight – the fight or flight response. In the fight or flight response, the limbic system causes a number of systems to shut down; this narrows the focus of energy and makes extra power available to the body. This process is quite nicely explained in Waking The Tiger by Peter Levine. (See Further Reading)

It comes, however, with a price. When one is triggered and caught up in the storm, one is not able to think and options are not available.

Having said this, it must also be said that there are ways of navigating this storm.

When in a triggered state a person’s most useful tool is self-awareness. Although the state itself seems to preclude any knowledge of or control over, the mind, a person can gain back the capacity to reason by means of physical awareness of the body. These are the steps to take:

1. Notice that you are triggered.

2. Maintain that observation, studying what you are experiencing and do not expect the feeling to change right away. One simply says:I am triggered. This takes some courage and motivation to take control.

3. Concentrate your focus on the sensation of the weight of your body on the floor if you are standing, or on your seat, if you are sitting.

4.Watch for thinking to occur.

The mechanism of this action has to do with a part of the brain that is involved with the perception of sensation in the body. The very fact of focusing on the sensations in one’s body lights up a part of the brain that connects with the left prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that does the thinking and reasoning. At this point you are still stressed but you can think, and options occur.

One may then use other energy-based solutions, E.M.D.R, E.F.T. etc. to more completely deal with the emotional after-effects of the experience.

Why this method works

When a person is triggered and experiencing a Limbic Storm he or she becomes trapped in the limbic system. This system has no neuronal connections with the left prefrontal cortex, the thinking part of the brain. One no longer is present in the present; one is actually trapped in the past although one may not realize this.

Step one: noticing the triggered state, allows for a part of the mind to separate from the triggered state to observe it.

Step two: becoming physically aware of the body activates a part of the brain that has neuronal connections with the left prefrontal cortex. The thinking opens, options occur. One is no longer stuck, although the feeling remains.

Step three: Becoming aware that thinking is possible – then use it. Options occur.

This whole process should be supervised initially by one’s therapist, and knowledge of techniques such as EFT, EMDR and breath control is an important knowledge base to have or learn.

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