I’m sure you’re familiar with the Fight or Flight response right? That’s the response we have when we sense a threat — we go into survival mode and we either fight the danger or we flee from it (more recently we’ve learned there’s actually a third option too — and that’s to Freeze — more on the that in a subsequent email coming soon).
From an evolutionary standpoint, the Fight or Flight response was developed to protect us from physical harm or danger, from the days when we were surviving on the Savannah (or fleeing from Stormtroopers 😂).
When faced with a threatening situation, signals are sent to two parts of our brain: the Amygdala and the Cortex.
The Amygdala is an ancient part of the brain and it’s responsible for basic emotions (e.g. fear), certain memories, and instincts like survival and procreation.
The Cortex is a much newer part of the brain (approx 2 million years younger) and is responsible for higher order functions like conscious thinking and language.
When the Amygdala (in charge of survival!) senses danger, it makes a split second decision and begins the Fight or Flight response before the Cortex has time to overrule it. When the Amygdala gets triggered in this way, it sets off instant changes in our bodies: we experience an adrenaline rush, racing heart, increased blood pressure, quickened breathing, sweating, shaking, even nausea — effectively shutting down our higher order thinking in the Cortex.
This is great when we have physical danger and we need to act fast. However,today, our Fight or Flight response can be triggered when we perceive a mental or emotional threat. Things like our boss yelling at us, public speaking, a big test at school, a sales presentation, an unfriendly co-worker, and a fight with your partner can all trigger the Flight or Fight response.
Boom 💥— in an instant, before we’re even consciously aware of it — our higher order brain function is shut down…and it can take up to several hours for us to recover. We can’t think as clearly, it's difficult to problem solve, concentrate and learn. And in the case of an emotional or mental conflict, we may say or do things “without thinking” that we later regret.
And that’s what we refer to as an Amygdala Hijack. So tell me — have you been hijacked recently?
(These pictures may seem random, BUT, I get triggered by the chaos in the baseball dugout and find myself YELLING at other people's kids 🙈: "NO BATS IN THE DUGOUT". I'm pretty sure my Cortex is offline when that's happening 🙋🏻♀️.)
What are ways to manage an Amygdala Hijack?
Awareness: Recognizing you’ve been hijacked is the first step! Notice any physical symptoms you’re experiencing.
Naming: Naming or describing what you are experiencing can help reduce the emotional and physical sensations.
Deep Breathing: through long deep breaths (filling the belly and the chest) we are giving the brain the message that everything is okay — there is no danger here and priming the Cortex to come back on line.
Take a Break: step away from the situation and give yourself a break before you come back to it.I hope this helps you understand yourself a little better, and to have more compassion and forgiveness for the times you might lose your calm!
I hope this helps you understand yourself a little better, and to have more compassion and forgiveness for the times you might lose your calm!