Have you ever overreacted? …said or did something that you later regretted?

 … maybe in the heat of the moment… you may have shouted at a colleague? what about in a traffic-jam?

Well, it sounds like an amygdala hijack.

The good news is that you can train your brain through simple mindfulness exercises to be less emotionally reactive during potentially triggering events.

What is an Amygdala Hijack

What is an Amygdala Hijack

Daniel Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence coined the term amygdala hijack to refer to an immediate and overwhelming emotional reaction, disproportionate to the stimulus because it triggers a deeper emotional threat.

What is an Amygdala Hijack in the brain

An Amygdala Hijack is like the alarm going off

Under normal circumstances, you process information through your neocortex or “thinking brain” where all higher functioning – logic, problem solving, prioritising occurs. When you are under severe pressure, your brain may panic and activite the alarm system which hijacks some of your higher cognitive functions and puts you into survival and reactive mode. Intelligence dims, you cannot think clearly and signals are sent straight to the amygdala which lays deep in the “emotional brain.”

In survival mode, the manager is robbed of his flexibility, his sense of humor, his ability to deal with the unknown. He desperately wants to kill the metaphorical tiger.

An Amygdala Hijack is part of survival process

The reason this occurs, is because the human brain has evolved over thousands of of years. The fight / flight mechansim is part of the oldest part of our brain and this alarm reaction helped your ancestors survive when they found themselves in physically life threatening situations.

What is an Amygdala hijack

Nowadays, you rarely experience physical threats to your life; threats are mostly psychological, often just imagined or your inner critic can threaten you. Think about how in work, something simple like an email or text or comment from your boss can trigger an overwhelming emotional reaction, disproportionate to the stimulus (which is an amygdala hijack).

This is not helpful and it can cause you problems. Your entire system flooded with adrenaline and cortisol (as well as all changes in picture above) and you feel you have to repress/suppress any signs. So, uou just sit at your desk and pretend that ‘everything is fine’, while these hormones stay pumping through your body for several hours. This is toxic to your physical and mental health and wellbeing as well as sabotaging your ability to work effectively.

What is an Amgdala Hijack?

You can change your brain and down-regulate your alarm response

The good news is that research shows that you can learn practical skills and change the way your brain reacts to emotional triggers. When you practice simple Mindfulness techniques, you can down-regulate your amygdala and change a lifetime of stress reactivity.

Here are practical tips for How to Manage Stress ‘in the moment’ at Work

This blog was written by Joanne O’Malley, Mindfulness at Work.