Rabbits are prey. Their cute, little, ever-wiggling noses, giant fluffy ears and large eyes are all designed for their protection with heightened senses ever looking for the next attack. Their nervous systems are tipped in a constant sympathetic dominance that leads to quickly accelerated blood pressure, ease of escape, and continual worry. We are not rabbits.

But, our ‘bunny brain’, as I like to call it, can bend towards getting stuck in a similar scenario. This may be more appropriately termed post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety disorder, or some form of obsessive-compulsive issue, but it’s all relatively the same. Whether it was a past experience that left us in a state of helplessness to danger or a current condition that steals our control, we can easily get trapped feeling like we are defenseless bunny rabbits surrounded by a hundred hungry wolves.

Our bunny brain can get stuck on high alert long after the predators have gone. Neurologically, we call this being in a state of sympathetic dominance. Our sympathetic nervous system is part of our autonomic nervous response, responsible for “fight, flight, or freeze”, largely protective, survival reactions. It’s counterpart, the parasympathetic system, is calming, healing, detoxifying, and resting. They are polar opposites and are supposed to be in balance, for the most part, in a resting, non-emergency, situation.

The problem comes in when our brain gets stuck thinking that wolves surround us. The ramped-up sympathetics can lead to high blood pressure, blood sugar control issues and even cancer, and worse, when one is diagnosed with such disease, it can lead to greater morbidity as the diagnosis itself increases sympathetic tone.

How can we break out of bunny brain? Below are a few of my suggestions:

  1. Surrender your past or current issues to God. If you are not a believer, I have no other help for my first point. Life is full of predator situations where we are the helpless prey whether we like it or not. This is a simple fact of the fallen world we live in. All will experience the inevitable struggles of life and trying to overcome without knowledge of and dependence on our Creator is impossible.
  2. Keep your mind occupied. I like to stay busy, both mind and body. I am constantly listening to books and good sermons and lectures that help me grow in faith and knowledge to help others. I have a difficult time sitting still, even on vacation, and I see this as a good thing. It helps me keep my bunny brain from activating.
  3. Always be asking better questions. The worst things I see my patients do is ask, “Why is this happening to me?” Instead ask questions like, “what am I supposed to learn for this?” “How can I help others through what I am going through?” “How can I be a blessing to someone today?”
  4. Stay in the present. When we focus on the possibility of a bleak future, our bunny brain is in full swing. Focus on today; take one day, one hour, at a time. This brings us back to the good questions to ask; ask them in the present tense. Instead of, “When I get better, I want to help others,” think, “how can I help someone TODAY.” There is always someone you can encourage NOW whether it is your spouse or the barista at your local coffee shop. Who can you bless today. It is the gentle word of encouragement, the “thank you” and unexpected compliment that gives meaning to life.
  5. Become a giver instead of a taker. Those who see themselves as victims often become needy takers that suck the life out of everyone around them. Be introspective enough to recognize that we all can slip into this position from time to time. Fight against it. Be a giver even if you can only give kindness right now. You pour out what is inside you so if people bump into you and get drenched with anger and pity and bitterness, you had better look inside and make some changes.
  6. Ask for assistance. Accountability is a necessary tool of change. We need others who love us enough to tell us the truth. I thank God for my wife who is secure enough in our relationship to speak truth into me when I need a slap. Surround yourself with those who will “sharpen your iron” and be slow to take offense.
  7. Pray for hope and the joy that comes along with future grace. God has, in His sovereignty, planned all you are experiencing to draw you closer to Him and the future grace He has for you in eternity. See everything as a molding and shaping and your bunny brain will calm down.

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