Have you ever felt that you reacted in a way that didn’t feel good, that you reacted too strongly to something, e.g. said something you immediately regretted? -That could be amygdala hijacking.
In his 1995 book “Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ,” psychologist Daniel Goleman called emotional overreaction “amygdala hijacking.”
The amygdala is a cluster of almond-shaped cells located near the base of the brain. The amygdala helps define and regulate emotions. It also stores memories and attaches those memories to specific emotions (such as happy, sad or being frightened).
The amygdala is a part of the brain responsible for a person’s emotional and behavioral reactions. And responsible for what we sometimes talk about as responses from the reptilian brain.
And you guessed it, this is where stress comes into play. Stress starts your flight or fight system. The brain detects stress via signals from the nervous system that you are not aware of.
The stress system in turn affects the frontal lobes. For mild or moderate threats, the frontal lobes can often override your amygdala so that you can approach the situation rationally, that you act as “you want”. But even everyday stressors like public speaking, paying bills, or projects that are important to you can trigger the fight-or-flight response.
An amygdala hijack means that you act before the frontal lobes have reacted. Which can lead to inappropriate or irrational behavior. After an amygdala hijack, you may experience other symptoms such as embarrassment, irritation, and regret.
A problem with long-term stress is that your amygdala becomes more sensitive, i.e., it reacts to lower stressors that hijack your emotional ability more quickly. The positive thing is that it is possible to exercise, to reduce the amygdala response and how you react to stress.
The symptoms of an amygdala hijack are caused by the body’s chemical reaction to stress. When you experience stress, your brain releases two types of stress hormones: cortisol and adrenaline. Both hormones, released by the adrenal glands, prepare your body for flight or fight (there are more but fight or flight is the one normally used).
Together, these stress hormones do several things to your body in response to stress. They:
- increase blood flow to the muscles, so you have more strength and speed to fight or flee
- expand your airways so you can take in and use more oxygen
- increase blood sugar to give you instant energy
- dilate the pupils to improve your vision for faster responses
Ok, now we know what amygdala hijacking is, what do we do about it?
It is not possible and not desirable to stop stressing. But you can, on the other hand, have better control over your stress. And this is where Mindtemp comes into play. Mindtemp gives you control over your stress; you can see where your stress comes from and get suggestions on which measures are the most effective based on Mindtemps analysis.
If you don’t use Mindtemp, there are 4 things that are good to keep an eye on;
- How do you sleep?
- Your breathing
- If you feel calm and relaxed or tense
- Social media and mobile consumption
Sleep is fundamental to your brain. A rested brain feels much better, and handles stress much better, thus helping you avoid amygdala hijacking.
Do you breathe quickly and up in your chest, or do you have calm and deep breathing? Practice deepening your breathing, it will help you lower your stress, and give you better control over your thoughts and actions.
If you feel calm and relaxed, the risk of amygdala hijacking is much less. But if there is something lying around and growing, it makes you tense and increases your (unconscious) stress. Then it’s easy to blurt out a sharp comment that you immediately regret.
There is a strong correlation between social media consumption, high mobile phone usage and mental ill health. We must let the brain rest and “be on its own”! If you are constantly connected, you do not give your brain enough rest and then you also have poorer control and function. (And we do hope you don’t bring your mobile into the bathroom. It’s not only distasteful, but you also have a perfect moment to relax and let the mind wander, and thus give the brain some peace).
So put down the phone, focus on breathing deeply, slowly and feel yourself relax – how does that feel? Taking regular breaks throughout the day will help you feel better, which will help you avoid amygdala hijacking.
*We will write more about the hippocampus. It is another part of the brain that gets into trouble with prolonged stress. – Sign up for Mindtemps newsletter so you don’t miss it.