Brain, Heart Matters: Understanding Your Brain to Change Your Boundaries

Did you have a great 4th of July? It was an amazing 4th of July here in North Orange County. The city of Fullerton put together a great fireworks show, and there were probably more illegal fireworks that were set off than any other year that I can remember. I am sure numerous PTSD episodes were set off by this once a year time of explosions. If we could have scanned the brains of everyone walking toward the football stadium I’m am sure that everyone’s left and right basal ganglia would have been over active. The basal ganglia is the anxiety thermostat of the brain, and sets the level of anxiety throughout one’s body. When it is over active, you will feel increased neck and shoulder tension, stomach upset, back tension, panic attacks, phobias, and the list goes on. The left and right basal ganglia are part of what we call a “diamond pattern” in a brain scan. It looks like the scan below:

The basal ganglia looks like “eyes”, the anterior cingulate (or gear shifter) is the white area in that region above the eyes, and the “nose” is the limbic system. If you draw a line between each of those areas it looks like a “diamond”. As the left and right basal ganglia becomes “hotter, it can cause the frontal cortex (the area right behind your forehead) to shut down! What that means, say your spouse, child, family member, co-worker, or neighbor is starting to talk to you in an angry, abusive manner and you want to set a boundary with them. When that anxiety center increases, the result is that you might draw a “blank” and not be able to find the words to say! Anxiety can increase so much that you will actually feel “frozen” and unable to move. When that happens your body is in a state of “flight” and you cannot take the steps to protect yourself and others. It is only later when your body begins to calm down, and the adrenalin dissipates that the words will come to you that you wanted to say.

There are several steps to take to help yourself in those situations:

  1. Be aware of your breathing. When anxiety increases, a person will not breath as deep as they would normally. Immediately begin to breathe deeply, and breathe from your diaphragm. Here is a short video on diaphragmatic breathing (
  2. Make an agreement with yourself to exit the conversation the moment you notice escalation. Rarely does anything good happen when people lose control of emotions. Simply say, “I prefer to stop the conversation, I want to take responsibility for not allowing things to go out of control. Let’s resume talking in one hour (It takes a minimum of one hour for a person to come down out of a state of adrenalin). During that hour, look at what your part is in the conflict, and make amends quickly if you said anything that added to the conflict.
  3. If the person does not respect your wish to stop, then grab a book and head for the bathroom. Lock the door. If the person escalates while you are trying to get yourself to safety, then call 911. Ending a conversation when things are escalating is called being spiritually responsible, it is not avoidance, no matter what the other person says.
  4. Here is a formula boundary statement; “I feel ______ when you ______. I prefer you _______.” As an example “I feel overwhelmed when you become angry. I prefer to talk in a softer tone.” If the person escalates after making that statement, then simply stop. Or another boundary statement would be, “I am reacting quite a bit, I need to stop; I do not want to say anything that will cause further distance between us.” When a reasonable request is ignored, then it is spiritually responsible to end the conversation, and commit to another time to talk.
  5. If it is hard to put the above steps into action because your mind draws a blank or you “freeze”, call our office at 714.256.2807 and arrange a consult. There are a number of reasons that the left and right basal ganglia can be out of control. It could be a past memory that is being triggered or what we call PTSD, the wrong supplements or medications can result in anxiety increasing rather than being able to manage the anxiety, or there could be hormonal imbalances.

Supplements that help lower anxiety.

GABA Calming Support is an excellent supplement that many of our patients use. GABA helps calm the left and right basal ganglia. NeuroLink is another effective supplement that helps lower anxiety. Restful Sleep was also developed to help calm the brain so that people have an easier time to drop off to sleep. If you choose to try any of Dr. Amen’s brainMD Supplements, use the code “ecenter5” at checkout for a 15% discount!!

That is the news from Brea where all the women are strong, the men are good looking, and the kids are above average!


Earl R Henslin, Psy.D, B.C.E.T.S.
Board Certified Expert in Traumatic Stress
Diplomate in the American Academy of Experts in Traumatic Stress
Clinician/Brain Health Coach/Executive Coach/Author/ Speaker

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