Suffering From Amygdala Hijack?

Part of being successful in life is maintaining control of our emotions. Daniel Goleman’s emotional intelligence model had four parts: self-awareness, self-management, social-awareness, and social skills. In Maureen Gaffney’s book, Flourishing, she discusses just how important emotion management is to be happy in one’s life and I wanted to share her work with you as it pertains to your achievement efforts.

We can easily lose ourselves to our emotions if we aren’t fully aware of how our body and mind work together to protect us. And even if we are aware of this, it’s still hard to overcome the effect emotions have on us at times. This is where amygdala hijacking comes in –  our amygdala can set a reaction within our body to an event before the thinking mind has an opportunity to become aware AND once a strong emotion is turned on, even the thinking brain has trouble turning it off. Have you ever gotten very upset or angry at something someone said or did and later, when you had a chance to reflect on it, you’re not sure what happened? You’ve been hijacked by your amygdala.

The amygdala sets off an emotional response before the thinking brain has had an opportunity to fully understand the signal it has just received – the amygdala is literally reacting in a thousandth of a second, sending signals throughout your body to mobilize to either flee or to fight. So, by the time your thinking brain figures out that the event isn’t worth a reaction, your body is still raging with adrenaline and it takes a while to work all of that out of your system.

Here’s what happens – you find yourself in a new situation, such as someone rolls their eyes in a meeting while you’re speaking. Your thinking brain doesn’t have a chance to reason it out, such as “they may not have been rolling their eyes at you.” The eye roll goes into your brain, then your amygdala quickly searches your data banks for a time this similarly occurred in your post. It finds something close, perhaps your teenage daughter rolling her eyes at you when you were scolding her and sends out signals to the body to react to the experience now as you did in the past – even though you may have no conscious memory of the previous situation, much less how you reacted then.

Fun fact – events don’t cause positive or negative feelings, we create them ourselves by the meaning that we give them. And as you now know – we don’t even have to be consciously aware of the meaning that we’re giving these events.

Here is the process we go through when judging whether or not something is good or bad and how we are going to react to it: first an event occurs, then we feel an onset of emotion (this is the amygdala at work); we have an automatic interpretation of it; we experience a physiological response; THEN we actually develop thoughts about it and take action. So, someone rolls their eyes at a meeting, you’re not aware of the process just described until you feel the physiological response to it. This is the point that you can also negate the hijacking before it fully takes place. So instead of going into that automatic reaction when the individual rolls their eyes while you’re speaking, you notice that you feel anger (or whatever feeling you can relate to), and you use that as a signal that your amygdala is trying to hijack you and stop the process. Here’s how it plays out – I notice the eye roll, I can feel a tightening in my chest and jaw (because that’s how I react) and I use this as an awareness trigger – “wow! I just got triggered and I’m going to calm down and not react until I can have a moment to figure out what is going on.”

Essentially folks – you create your emotions, so you can control them. Pretty cool, huh? Especially if you thought you couldn’t control your emotions and had to go with them whenever you felt them. No so – time to take back control of your life. Some strategies for doing so are, meditation – Meditation is a strategy for pretty much any time you are trying to take better control of your mind or body. Another strategy is to have some sort of gratitude practice. Maybe it’s every morning or evening, but sometime throughout the day, listing the things you’re grateful for. Another one is good self-care – if you’re not taking care of yourself, you are more apt to simply be in reactionary mode.

Lots of info today superachievers! Decide on one commitment you will make today to improve your life based on what you just learned.