“Tachypsychia” is a neurological condition that distorts the perception of time, appearing to make events slow down or speed up. While we don’t hear often hear the word much in conversation, most of us have experienced it—whether during a traumatic accident or some other stressful moment. If you’ve ever found yourself in a situation that felt like it spiraled out of control in a speeding blur or warped into slow motion like a scene from the old television series “The Six Million Dollar Man,” you’ve experienced tachypsychia.
It’s believed that high levels of dopamine and norepinephrine induce tachypsychia. These hormones are what trigger the fight or flight response, our survival mechanism. If we feel attacked or anxious, our heartbeat quickens, blood pressure rises and breathing becomes shallow. Fortunately, the occasions in life where we truly need to react with great intensity are rare these days, so it’s important to be able to control this instinct when it’s not needed, especially in day-to-day interactions that can trigger emotional reactions.
We are not our emotions. With mindfulness practice, you can make a subtle, yet important, shift in how you perceive thoughts and emotions and choose to express them. Search Inside Yourself uses the sky as a metaphor to explain this perspective: “Thoughts and emotions are like clouds—some beautiful, some dark—while our core being is like the sky. Clouds are not the sky; they are phenomena in the sky that come and go. Similarly, thoughts and emotions are not who we are; they are simply phenomena in mind and body that come and go.”
Mastery of our emotions, especially when they’re triggered by the fight or flight mechanism, is the key. Reacting to our emotions (for example, “Danger! Run!”) is fitting in extraordinary situations, but more often simply recognizing how we feel (versus reacting) is more prudent.
The trick is to recognize the physical and emotional reactions quickly—the racing heartbeat, feeling of panic, etc.—and then stop. Just stop for a moment to take at least one long breath. Ideally, take two or three slow breaths. Taking deep breaths induces a calming effect by reducing the heart rate and blood pressure. It counteracts tachypsychia, brings us mindfully to the present and allows our thinking brain and emotional brain to communicate more clearly and work better together.
For more ways to master emotions, try the Siberian North Railroad practice on page 116 of Search Inside Yourself.