The basal ganglia are large structures that surround the deep limbic system. They help us integrate feelings, thoughts and movements as well as affect motor behavior. Dr. Amen believes they also set the body’s ‘idling speed’ or our anxiety level. They cause us to jump when excited, tremble when we’re nervous, freeze when we’re scared or get tongue-tied when under pressure. They can cause problems when they are overactive or under active.

When they are overactive we are more likely to be overwhelmed and become immobile. When they are under active they may be associated with Attention Deficit Disorder or ADD. The two conditions are associated with dopamine levels in our bodies which means they can be modified by drugs like Ritalin and l-dopa. Basal ganglia are connected to problems with Parkinson’s disease and Tourette’s syndrome, as well as panic attacks, PTSD, anxiety, conflict avoidance, tremors, headaches and low or excessive motivation.

In addition to the two medications mentioned above, Dr. Amen recommends ANT (automatic negative thought) removal mentioned in my previous blog. Meditation works very well for this area of the brain because it fosters relaxation and breathing with the diaphragm as opposed to the chest. Dr. Amen also suggests self-hypnosis is beneficial to enter sleep more quickly. Proper sleep is also beneficial for basal ganglia, as it is for almost everything we do. Another suggestion is visual imagery; imagining a haven where you can go to relax, perhaps a place you have gone to on vacation, a place of wonderful sights, smells, feelings and peace.

Dr. Amen states that people with basal ganglia problems usually spend much of their time worrying about what other people think of them. He recommends the “18/40/60 Rule” (page 105):

“When you’re eighteen, you worry about what everyone is thinking about you. When you are forty, you don’t give a damn about what anybody thinks about you. When you’re sixty, you realize nobody’s been thinking about you at all.”

Dr. Amen’s Basal Ganglia Checklist is on page 95 of his book. Again, you rate yourself, or someone else, based upon twenty behaviors to determine if this area is a problem.

Next blog: The Prefrontal Cortex