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Emotional sickness, or disorders of the limbic brain, can have serious consequences. We are not conscious of the workings within the limbic brain, and thus these disorders can be particularly troublesome to deal with because the underlying causes are hidden. Some of these disorders can manifest as:
- Phobias – these are a type of anxiety disorder, common ones being agoraphobia (fear of open spaces), arachnophobia (fear of spiders), acrophobia (fear of heights), etc. Fear of flying is another common one. There is a long list here. A number of areas of the limbic brain around the amygdala have been identified as being active with phobias. With intensive training people have been able to overcome their phobias to some extent, but the high levels of stress and anxiety experienced often limits the experiences and activities that affected individuals will undertake and it can limit one’s experiences and careers.
- Anxiety disorders and panic attacks – like phobias, a person experiencing anxiety or panic attacks manifests severe physical symptoms including fast beating heart, shortness of breath, shaking, etc. The amygdala in the limbic brain is again a central component, and hence difficult to work with. Drugs are the usual method of treatment. Alternative therapies include CBT and meditation.
- PTSD – another anxiety disorder is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Usually triggered when one is involved in a traumatic event such as a war, or a natural disaster like a hurricane or earthquake, or extreme torture or sexual violence. The memory of the event is embedded deep in the amygdala and related limbic circuits, and can be very hard to treat. The symptoms can manifest both physically and emotionally and last for years. One of the functions of sleep is for the inner mind to deal with memories moving them to long-term memory, and these traumatic PTSD memories can cause all sorts of difficulties and sleep disturbance.
- Tics and Tourettes syndrome – these are neuro-motor or neuro-psychiatric development issues, resulting in involuntary movements or noises. The limbic brain and cerebellum are the affected areas, for which there is currently no treatment or cure.
- Aspergers syndrome (related to High Functioning Autism and PDD-NOS) – a developmental disorder affecting social interaction. It is a form of autism, but many individuals can be mentally gifted whilst being socially deficient. Some celebrities that are likely to have Aspergers syndrome include Bill Gates, James Taylor, Susan Boyle, Andy Warhol, Abraham Lincoln, Robin Williams and Michael Jackson.
- Allergies – I have placed allergies in the limbic brain area as they are an unconscious over-reaction (usually an immune system response) to certain substances. There are food allergies, skin rash allergies (eczma/dermatitis, psoriasis, hives), asthma (inflammation of the airways, reacting to dust mites, etc.), hay fever, etc. Many people suffer from some type of allergy with varying degrees of reaction. In extreme cases, those with nut allergies can die after ingesting a small amount of the substance they are allergic to. It has been suggested that modern societies clean living has made us hyper-sensitive to substances that we would have become accustomed to if we had grown up in more natural surroundings. The cleaner the environment the more hyper-sensitive we become when we are exposed to the irritant and consequently the more violent the reaction. (It seems that one source of allergies may be genes that Homo Sapiens inherited from the Neanderthals).
- Schizophrenia – whilst this is usually classified as a mental condition, a failure to properly comprehend “reality“, I have categorised here as an emotional disorder because the root cause seems to lie in the limbic brain in the hippocampus and temporal lobes, and the symptoms manifest as social interaction problems. The film A Beautiful Mind about John Nash describes his struggle with delusions and their affect on his life, whilst also being a brilliant mathematician. About 20% of schizophrenics recover themselves without medication; the reasons and mechanisms for the condition and recovery are not properly understood.
- Bipolar – another mental disorder, categorised here as emotional because the root causes appear to be in the limbic brain. Also known as manic depression, this condition occurs in 1% – 2% of the population and leads its sufferers through alternate cycles of euphoria and depression. There are suicidal tendencies during the depressive episodes.
Addictions – almost everybody has some form of addiction, some more destructive than others. If you refer back to earlier discussions and the brain diagrams, you will recall the reward centre in the limbic brain (nucleus accumbens and the mesolimbic pathway). We get caught up in a positive feedback loop whereby some actions initiated by the prefrontal cortex result in the release of dopamine in the limbic brain and the stimulation of the reward centre, reinforcing the “feeling” – we decide that we like doing it, and we do it more. There are many addictions – sexual intercourse, alcohol, gambling, retail shopping, video games, pornography, and of course the hard drugs like cocaine and methamphetamine. There are more “minor” addictions, like tea and coffee and even coca-cola (caffeine addiction), having sugar in ones favourite beverage. Even physical exercise can become an addiction with the body getting high on the endorphins released during strenuous workouts. Meditation can become also become addictive, but the chemistry is slightly different as it is based on serotonin rather than dopamine (which most of the others are based on). Organisations such as Alcholics Anonymous and the Gambling Help line exist to try and help you free yourself from serious destructive addictions. It is very hard to be completely free of all addictions, but it is not good if you are in the grip of ones that are particularly destructive.
- ADHD – attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. This is usually recognised first with children unable to pay attention in class at school, but adults also can suffer from hyperactivity and inability to remain focused on the task at hand. The symptoms manifest as social interaction problems. The cause appears to be brain chemistry (dopamine, serotonin) in the limbic brain, but exact causes and treatments are unclear.
- Heuristics and Cognitive Biases – I deal with these in the section on mental faculties, but another way of looking at these mental shortcuts that take place inside the limbic brain, unconsciously, is that they are an emotional sickness. An emotional sickness that results in us making unfair judgements about others (sexism, racism, etc.). The remedy is to slow down a bit, and ensure that we are making decisions consciously – not being run by the unconscious limbic brain.
Emotional problems often manifest and affect us physically. Phobias and anxiety disorders and allergies all result in strong physical symptoms with debilitating conditions for our physical bodies. Being in a state of emotional wellness is a great asset and is something that many of us have to strive for.