Amygdala Hijack!

Beware…during the holiday season there is an opportunity for you to get hijacked. Stressful family situations, last minute work projects and holiday shopping provide ample opportunities for a hijack.

The ‘amygdala hijack’ is a term coined in Daniel Goleman’s Emotional Intelligence. The amygdala is the emotional part of the brain, which regulates the fight or flight response. When threatened, the amygdala can respond irrationally. A rush of stress hormones floods the body before the prefrontal cortex (the brain’s executive function where rational thought and judgment sit) can manage the reaction.

Some tips for dealing with a hijack:

  • Pay attention to your reactions and mange your triggers. Does your heart start pounding or your body gets tense? Recognize how you physically react to threatening situations. Then pay attention to the situations and what triggers the response.
  • Reframe the situation – force yourself to focus on the facts and be specific about what happened. Then examine the facts from a different point of view. For example, rather than getting angry at the person who cut you off in traffic reframe it as someone late to pick up a loved one at the airport.
  • Be silly – find something to laugh about. When your amygdala is hijacked the impact can last for hours. Laughter diffuses the electro-chemicals released by the amygdala and helps manage the hijack.
One additional suggestion as you face a potential hijack is to breathe.  Practice taking in a deep breath, holding it and then slowly exhaling.  This forces a pause and calms the fight or flight response.

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