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The Perfect Storm: Limbic System Impairment

With the challenges of modern-day life and technology, it has become almost impossible to avoid stressful situations. Far from the time of cave-dwellers when danger and threat were right around the corner, our society has become more efficient, and social expectations and constraints have reduced the time we spend in self-care. The number of autoimmune conditions is rising, baffling many doctors. Neuroscientists have recently found that limbic system impairment, caused by trauma, is at the root of many chronic illnesses.  What is limbic system impairment and how is it caused?

What is Limbic System Impairment?

Limbic system impairment is a maladaptive stress response in which the brain becomes overreactive to stress or threat to protect itself, creating a “perfect storm”.  Instead of returning to a state of calm and connection after a stressful event, our limbic system keeps us on high alert by creating continuous stress responses to “fuel up” our body. This action happens in a split second before we have time to allow our rational, prefrontal brain to think it over. It reacts from a heightened state of protection, or a stuck “fight or flight” response which is ongoing in the present. In other words, most of our reactions, whether they are social, biological, or other, stem from an event in the past that was not “resolved”. What this suggests is that our ability to fight off an infection, express an emotion, or complete a certain action was thwarted, preventing our nervous system from returning to a state of homeostasis and balance. As the limbic system attempts to 'resolve' or manage future threats, it can mistakenly interpret benign situations as dangerous. Thus, ordinary encounters, past illnesses, or specific foods may inadvertently trigger a chronic stress loop.

How a Chronic Stress Loop is Formed

Despite many treatments, medications, and healing modalities, the root cause of an illness often remains unresolved. We spend thousands of dollars trying to fix our health problems, with little or no avail. Limbic system impairment is often at the heart of this cycle. For example, a pathogen may have entered our body in the past, and we were not able to effectively fight off the infection, or perhaps the viral infection or pathogen was “coupled” with an emotionally distressing moment. Our body perceives danger and repeatedly signals danger to our brain, indicating it’s not safe.  This triggers the construction of a new neural pathway in an attempt to resolve the danger and keep us safe. As these neural pathways begin to replicate, our body becomes stuck in a fight or flight mode, ready to pounce on the next infection to resolve the past event, or what is now known as “trauma”. However, the ongoing stress loop hijacks the ability to heal the body, causing a maladaptive response in the brain.

Causes of Limbic System Impairment

As humans, we are surrounded by multiple exposures on the planet, such as chemicals, mold, unhealthy diets, physical and emotional trauma, cultural stress, and medical interventions, such as surgeries. However, not everyone becomes reactive to these triggers and falls into a loop of chronic limbic system impairment. So, who is more likely to be triggered? While many factors may play a part in this brain and body reaction, many studies have shown that people with a history of trauma, or who are sensitive or empathic to life events may be susceptible to limbic system impairment.

When dealing with limbic system impairment, the first step is awareness. Understanding the chronic stress loop associated with this neural patterning is crucial to rewiring the brain and resolving the stress loop. In Regulate & Thrive, we learn to develop an internal awareness of our patterns, bring safety back into the body by regulating the nervous system, and create new neural pathways that allow our hearts to open into a new state of being. We are reminded that we are neither our illness nor our trauma. It is in the understanding of our safety and light, even within the darkness of our “perfect storm”, that transformation and healing are born.


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