Over the past few years, I have developed a deep understanding of how my automatic brain (AB) works. From this, I feel that I have figured out much in the way of human interaction as well as personal challenges, even torments. One thing that has become quite clear is that certain anxieties and even depression always stem from something that triggers one’s AB. Often the person suffering from these things has not brought up to the level of consciousness and awareness the actual danger trigger, remaining in the subconscious. That is, danger is the only thing to which the AB reacts. When detected, danger will lead to a fight or flight response. Anxiety is fight or flight and depression is generally flight. Mostly people experiencing these conditions are told or believe that there is a chemical imbalance causing them—that they have no control. However, medication is sometimes needed only because the fight or flight response to an unrecognized danger trigger is just too draining, exhausting, and paralyzing. There is no Prozac deficiency, for instance, in the depressed patient. The chemical imbalance occurs from a chronically triggered AB and the electrochemical reaction it produces. The deeper the depression or the deeper the anxieties usually indicate the severity of the danger trigger. For instance, significant trauma dangers that the AB stores away in its memory banks arising from childhood are often the source of severe fight or flight responses, hence anxieties or depression that are quite recalcitrant to treatment.

When someone comes to me and complains of anxiety or depression, I first want to know what is happening in their life. I want to find out if there is a danger trigger in their adult life situation (those are easier to address than childhood danger triggers). Recently, Jim came to me complaining of feeling recurring anxiety. I know that anxiety that arises in our adult life, not related to childhood danger memories, usually comes from the big three (as I call them): Money, Relationships, and Health. As I probed, he shared with me that his relationship with his girlfriend recently intensified, the business that he owns was very slow, his son had not returned his communication efforts for the past 8 months, and he had concerns over his chronic but stable illness. My diagnosis was the perfect storm—danger triggers in all of the big three.

Through my theory of the automatic brain, I helped Jim bring to the level of consciousness and awareness the dangers that served as a continual undercurrent of distress from the fight or flight activity. For him to acknowledge this, he accepted that there is always a trigger causing the anxiety. We discussed how the AB does not think only reacts. Anxiety and depression are not natural states, but arise only from a reaction to a danger trigger (the way I theorize). Once recognized, one can confront the danger. Being upset with themselves is the common response of an individual with these symptoms. They become frustrated by their inability to stop the fight or flight even if they recognize the danger triggers. The fact is that this AB of ours has been around for hundreds of thousands of years and is not going anywhere. The challenge is not to believe, trust, or take direction from it. For those who read my book Brain Drain, you will recall how I wrote about the movie A Beautiful Mind. In the end, as a man in his late seventies and finally functional as the brilliant professor that he was, Dr. John Forbes Nash strolled across the green at Princeton. Following alongside were his three delusions chatting it up as usual. The difference was that he no longer believed, trusted, or took direction from them. And what does that mean?

The way I see it, when we trust the fight or flight thoughts and symptoms we block our ability to recognize our own strengths and therefore ability to find real solutions to our personal challenges. I also believe that we are unable to accept good things that come to us. When perceived danger activates the AB, it puts us in a state that we can only see the negative or worst case scenario. Why? Because the worst case scenario is what can ultimately hurt us the most—according to this primitive brain. The first step in releasing the power that the AB has over us is to receive with no strings attached. It is often hard to come out of a depression or chronic anxiety state because whenever the cloud seems to lift a little, the possibility that it won’t last signals danger, triggering the AB , and leading back into anxiety and depression. When good fortune occurs, I feel, one must accept it without any preconceived notions of what it might mean or what should be done with it. For example, let’s say that you are in a relationship and your partner with whom you have been arguing and feel is causing your anxiety, does something genuinely caring. Instead of going with the AB generated thought, “it’s about time,” or “yeah, he’s being nice because he wants something,” “or “she’s nice now but tomorrow she’ll be the same old nag,” receive the act with no strings attached. It just is. It stands alone from past and future. If suddenly your depression from the real danger of unemployment is alleviated by a part time job opportunity, receive it with no conditions. Do not believe, trust, or take direction from the fight or flight thoughts such as, “I’m a loser, I can only get a part time job.” Or, “I might have a job now, but what happens next week when it ends.” Or, “Yeah, it’s money, but I’ll never have enough.”

Here’s my short list to live with the AB, but not allow it to direct your life. First, do not own negative emotional states. Assign their origin to the reactive primitive brain that creates them for the sole purpose of protecting you from dangers from which you need no such protection. Second, begin to look for the positive around you and associate with positive people, avoiding negative people, circumstances, and/or media programming. Third, begin to create a habit of receiving good fortune and good fellowship of others with no strings attached.

Never believe that you are losing your mind. Your mind is constant, always accessible, and can never be lost. What can make you feel like you’re losing your mind is an activated AB. As you learn to trust it less, you will start seeing and believing that you can be in perfect control, surrounded by perennial good fortune, and you will learn to receive it with open arms, an open heart, and an open mind.

Author's Bio: 

Dr. Glassman began distributing a weekly motivational email message to patients and friends in January 2007. By May 2008, his distribution list had grown so much—as people on the list told others about it—
and interest in his messages had become so high—Dr. Glassman decided to turn his philosophy and advice into a book. That’s how Brain Drain came about. Starting in May 2008, his weekly messages—now distributed to an even larger audience—formed the basis for chapters of this book.
To date, Brain Drain has won in the Spiritual category at the 2009 Los Angeles Book Festival and received honorable mention at the 2009 New England Book Festival. Brain Drain has also been awarded the 2010 Pinnacle Achievement Award for best Self-Help book by NABE and is an Eric Hoffer Award winner.

Through his book, private practice, public appearances, continued weekly messages,and Coach MD (medical coaching practice) Dr. Glassman has helped thousands realize a healthier, successful, and more abundant life.

He lives in Rockland County, NY with his wife and their four children (and dog, Ginger).