5 Immediate Steps To Take When You Get Stuck In A Nervous System Memory

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Have you ever had a memory flash through your mind when you hear a certain sound, or walk into a space with a particular smell?

These memory flashes can take you back in time to another moment when the smell of those chocolate chip cookies fresh out of the oven reminds you of your mother. Or perhaps it’s a car horn honking that takes you back to a narrowly averted car accident on the road and your whole body tenses up.

The mind-body connection is powerful and is hard-wired to keep you safe.

These moments, whether they be sights, sounds, smells, or touch, good or bad can transport you to that moment in time in a blink of an eye.

The challenge is when we experience traumatic moments in our lives and we don’t have the space or capacity to process the trauma, the imprint of that moment stays in our nervous system.

Think of it as a photographic snapshot in time where your body remembers every detail: the adrenaline coursing through your body, the fear or terror you’re experiencing, and the tightening of muscles preparing you to run.

And you can thank your amygdala.

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Signs your brain has been 'hijacked' by your amygdala

The amygdala is two almond-sized parts of your limbic brain, preparing you to fight, flee or freeze. And when your amygdala takes over because of a real-time event, or simply the memory of a past trauma being triggered, your prefrontal cortex, loses its mind …


When your amygdala hijacks your brain, it keeps your body on high alert trying to keep you alive. Causing you to now have limited access to your executive functioning of logic and reasoning in your frontal lobe for six seconds to several hours.

The psychologist Daniel Goleman first coined the term “amygdala hijacking” in his 1995 book Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ.

And it refers to the flood of cascading reactions throughout your body to help you stay alive that inhibits your ability to respond rationally to a real or perceived threat. These can include increased cortisol and adrenaline, decreased functioning of your immune system, brain fog, anxiety and much more.

This can lead a person to react in ways that are out of proportion to the situation at hand.

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Spot the physical reactions to stress

Some indications that you’re having a nervous system memory event, also known as post-traumatic stress, include:

  • Sweaty palms and feet
  • Clammy skin
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Goosebumps on your skin
  • Dilated pupils
  • Feeling easily overwhelmed
  • Feeling “on edge”
  • Muscle tension
  • Chest tightness

So, what can you do to bring your mind and body back to the present moment?

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Here are five simple tips you can use to reclaim your brain 

1. Take several deep breaths

Deep breathing helps oxygenate your brain and blood while also calming your nervous system down. This can help you regain clarity and executive functioning in the frontal lobe of your brain in a shorter period of time.

2. Tune into your senses

Feel your fingers and toes. Notice your butt in the chair you’re sitting in. Tune into the temperature of the air on your skin. Each of these can bring you back to present awareness and the understanding that you’re safe at this moment.

3. Focus on a puzzle

Whether you rearrange the furniture in your house, make your bed, create a photo collage, or pick up your favorite adult coloring book with geometric designs, anything that helps you focus on the thing right in front of you can help calm your system and bring you back to present moment awareness.

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4. Shift your perspective

Focus on petting a beloved pet, take a walk outside and feel the sunshine on your face, or just find one thing you’re grateful for right now. Your brain cannot focus on a negative thought and a positive thought at the same time, so shift your perspective to the gratitude channel to help ease your fears and calm your body.

5. Move your body

Create a state change by getting some exercise. This will help you come back into your body and reset your thinking as you focus on your exercise of choice whether that’s yoga, dance, running, weight lifting, biking, walking, swimming, or the ancient art of Qigong.

You don’t have to go through this alone.

If you’re experiencing these traumatic memory events frequently, consider seeking help from a professional whether that is a hypnotherapist, counselor, or coach, having someone to talk to can be extremely helpful to release the trauma from your system and rewire your mind for greater happiness, peace of mind and well-being.

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Michele Molitor, CPCC, CHt – Your Mind Detective, is a certified coach and hypnotherapist, and co-author of the best-selling book, Breakthrough Healing.

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