It is near impossible today to avoid feeling panicked at times, overwhelmed with daily stressors, or out of control in our emotional reactions. EMDR is one specific way to address these issues.
Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing or EMDR works well for treating traditional trauma or post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). However, it is also very effective in treating any symptom involving feeling overly emotional or overloaded. It is very difficult to think logically when you are emotional for good reason. That is because when you are too heavy in emotional mind, the side of your brain that holds your logic, problem solving skills and rational thinking skills is very difficult to access!
Let me first explain briefly the two sides of the brain and each of their functions in order to help you understand how EMDR works.
The left side of your brain is what I refer to as “logical brain.” It controls basic factual information and anything new you might take in such as a new skill. It also controls things you do not think much about but do every day such as walking, talking and breathing. It controls your ability to problem solve or to apply learned skills that you may learn in a therapy setting (coping skills, relaxation strategies, interpersonal skills). Many people think that logical mind is not as important when it comes to getting results in psychotherapy but that is simply not the case!
The right side of your brain is what I refer to as “emotional brain.” It controls any emotion and personal experience. This is the part of your brain that works at regulating your emotions and preventing you from feeling too intensely to function effectively. In many cases, this process works great and people are able to calm down or feel more positive with their brains’ natural process of emotional regulation; however, sometimes the emotions associated with a traumatic experience or particular stressor are too much and the brain is unable to fully regulate. This often results in feeling out of control emotionally once one is triggered. When this happens, often you are too heavy in emotional brain to access logical brain where all the rational information is that will assist you in calming down or self regulating. For example, have you ever felt confident that you had a good plan in calming down but once you were upset had no idea what to do? This was likely because you could not access your logical brain, not because you are not capable of understanding such concepts.
The other important function of emotional brain comes from a small part of the brain called the amygdala, which also assists in regulating your emotions along with your long term and short term memory. Only the most important or immediate information is meant to stay in your short term memory, but unfortunately this is not always what happens. There are times when specific memories or events may get “stuck” in your short term memory instead of being processed out into long term memory. This happens most commonly when an event is especially traumatic or painful or if it holds significant emotional value. These events do not have to be huge traumatic events but can also be small things that hold value for whatever reason. Because this information holds value, the brain sometimes will hold onto it as an immediate need even though it may be from years ago. I often refer to these events as “unprocessed memories.” As a result of these unprocessed memories, you may experience emotional reactions more often because the information associated with these events is so readily available to your thought process in your short term memory, rather than being stored as more of a distant memory in your long term bank.
So, if you are experiencing sudden panic, feeling overwhelmed or unable to control your emotions, it could be possible that these feelings could be traced back to an unprocessed memory still needing to be sorted out into your long term bank. Once this information is processed effectively, often times you will feel more in control of how you react emotionally and the emotions will not be as intense. It should feel similar to something that happened a long time ago rather than something that happened just recently.
EMDR focuses on identifying what the unprocessed memories are and utilizing the natural healing process that is supposed to occur in our REM sleep every night. REM sleep is the part of our sleep cycle in which the brain decides what is most important to keep in short term memory versus what is not as important and can thus be sorted out to the long term bank. EMDR simulates this natural REM sleep process while you are awake in order to target those unprocessed memories that may be causing you so much emotional distress. Once those memories are processed effectively, your brain will be better balanced between both your logical brain and emotional brain rather than feeling so heavy in your emotions.