The limbic system will fire up the stress response system at the least provocation, reducing the calming influence of the prefrontal cortex and preparing us to run or fight for our lives. It worked extremely well on the wild, open savannas of ancient Africa but is so often inappropriate in our highly stressed, technologically advanced societies. Impulsive behaviour flows from the limbic system. Turn off the stress response and the prefrontal cortex can take over, guiding our behaviour along calmer, more logical lines.
Turning down the stress response can work wonders for the body’s overworked immune system, enabling the body to function with much greater efficiency. One of the methods recommended by behavioural therapists is to learn to create distance between whatever is happening around you and yourself.
It’s as if we learn to see ourselves from a distance, viewing ourselves dispassionately and choosing behaviours and responses that make sense from that new and distanced perspective. It’s as if you were advising a friend rather than yourself. The distance lends itself immediately to more rational behaviour. There is less personal involvement, fewer opportunities for the amygdala to issue its usual panic responses.
Distance calms the beast. Distance creates order in the midst of chaos. Distance brings the stress response gently but firmly under control. Learning to see oneself objectively, from the distance we’ve just mentioned, gives you more choices, more options, the enhanced probability of better outcomes.
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