STRUGGLING with DEPRESSION, ANXIETY, or BIPOLARITY? LEARNING can really HELP. Start with ARTICLES above or Topics below. Ty! Bill

The Ups & Downs of (Mis)Interpretation & (Over)Reaction (2nd of 2)

We began a series yesterday on the massive impact of interpretation and reaction upon the mood and anxiety disorders. You’ll recall I approached the topic within the real-life context of waiting for an elevator. Here’s a link to Part 1 if you’d like to get up to speed.

So let’s get back to work, okay?

Back we go to the 11th floor with an edited script (this did not really happen)…

There I was enjoying a beautiful view through this massive floor to ceiling window as I waited for the elevator. All was well with the world until out of nowhere the window was gone, leaving nothing but open air.

And there I stood within two feet of that very messy catastrophe I’d considered when I knew I was safe and sound. Reading the new script, here are the biochemical events that are going down in my brain…

My brain’s sensation receiving hub, the thalamus, is soaking up signals from my sense of sight that the glass is gone. It’s receiving the word from my sense of hearing that the wind’s blowing and there’s road noise below. And it’s receiving a signal from my sense of touch that the wind’s blowing against my skin.

Well, after receiving these messages my thalamus begins to send information to other components of my brain. One message is headed toward my amygdala and the other is on the way to my prefrontal cortex. But, it’s important to note the message to my amygdala is the more expedient of the two.

When my amygdala receives its message it sounds the alarm because it’s not interested in interpretation. Its job is to fire, and entertain questions later. As a result, my HPA axis gets cranked up, and that leads to the secretion of cortisol, norepinephrine, and epinephrine.

So now my fight/flight response is chugging along like a locomotive. Oh, and my amygdala is also sending a message to my brainstem to facilitate additional adjustments to heart rate and respiration.

Well, the slower message finally arrives at my prefrontal cortex and it’s time for some reasoned interpretation and decision making. And after a lightening quick analysis it sends a message back to the amygdala to continue firing because this is definitely a life threatening event.

And with that, my fight/flight locomotive chugs on and if I can manage to thaw from my full body freeze, I’m out of there!

But, wait, a true danger didn’t exist. Remember? We’ve already established I was safe whether or not the glass was in place. That being the case, my prefrontal cortex misinterpreted the signals from my amygdala, resulting in a perceived threat. Within this context, the events could have gone down very differently.

Had my amygdala received a message from my prefrontal cortex that, indeed, no true danger existed it would have turned off the alarms and in short order calm would have been restored. And I’d have stood there facing the breeze from 110 feet up without batting an eye.

To me, what I’m presenting is very logical and theoretically correct. And I believe striving for this kind of reason is foundational in resolving our irrational thoughts, hence our emotions. However, thought alone isn’t going to get the job done.

No, facilitating management over our myth-generating reasoning takes practice. And with sufficient amounts of motivation and effort we can make great strides toward holding our mood, affect, and anxiety in check.

As you consider these dynamics, go back to my 11th floor scenario and remind yourself that with the exception of a silly one-quarter-inch thick piece of glass, nothing on the two sets was different.

And that includes a poorly disciplined prefrontal cortex that allowed misinterpretation to run rampant.

There you go – the series complete. Always, always, always  – want and need your comments! How ’bout it???

  • karen

    hmm…….I get the message, but am still creeped out by the 110 foot drop……talk about needing a lot of practice to actually interpret things accurately…………and to be able to step back and do in the middle of the firefight–which is what my entire work life feels like.

    • Well, yeah – that 110 foot drop doesn’t exactly appeal to me either. But it’s more a matter of the ultimate goal – the extreme. Philosophically it’s interesting to discuss. I mean, we have to admit it’s true; however, is it 110% realistic? Well, it’s not on my Top 10 Things To Accomplish list.

  • Linda

    I have been guilty of [Mis]Interpretation and [Over]Reaction for most of my life. Lately, I have noticed that my thoughts are becoming more positive and I am choosing my reactions to life. I have haunted alot of personal development web sites over the past four years and Chipur is one of my favorites. I have done alot of hard work to get where I am and I still need alot of support. Thank You

    • Hi Linda. Glad you stopped by and shared. No doubt, misinterpretation(itis) and overreaction(itis) are well recognized bugs. And it’s when we come to the realization that we really do have the authority and tools to manage them that we, in fact, begin to rise above our distress. So well put when you state, “…I am choosing my reactions to life.” That is so strong! And thank you for your kind words about chipur. You can be sure I’ll be doing all I can to make return visits well worth your while. And you know – we all need support, don’t we? Yep – that’s why the light will always be on here. :cool:

  • Linda

    Bill,
    Thank You for the compliment! I Have never thought so highly of myself, and what I have accomplished in my recovery. My biggest challenge so far, being anti-social. I havent done very well in getting in touch with it. Learning has become an obsession, especially about communication. Comments?

    • How great to read you’re feeling so good about yourself, Linda. And I really believe the social hesitancy will become less an issue for you as you dip your feet in the pool a little. You know, I remember when I hit the true road to recovery many years ago. I was assessed at the Univ of Chicago and left with a scrip for one of the tricyclic antidepressants. In fairly short order I began to feel much better at base. But there was still the matter of regaining the social confidence I at one time had. It took a bit of time, but as I circulated I got stronger and stronger. You’re approaching your situation so right. Working on your thinking, your communication – and now your social comfort. Nothing but very good things ahead.

  • Linda

    Hi Bill, I was never very social to begin with, and as I get older it has become easier. I find it easier to have a few really good friends than alot. I enjoy our communications, and I hope to include you as a friend. Thank You for your words of encouragment, they are always appreciated. Linda

    • I’ll be right here for ya’!

    • Actually, we’ll all be right here for ya’!