How To Stop Being Hijacked By Something The Size Of An Almond!
Whenever we feel threatened, a part of our brain called the amygdala (ah-mig-da-la) activates. It is an almond shaped structure in the brain and the name is derived from the Greek word for almond.
This is part of a primal set of circuitry that evolved to warn us of things like attacking animals or falling rocks.
It works closely with the hippocampus, a memory centre, to catalogue threats we’ve encountered.
Another part of the brain, called the ‘prefrontal cortex’, is the centre for thinking and reasoning. This is a highly sophisticated area that controls decision-making, focuses our attention, and helps us compute, analyze, and interpret information. It also helps downregulate the easily stimulated amgydala.
The amygdala has one goal - look for threats, and if it sees one, puts us into ‘fight, flight or freeze’ mode. It will then close down the channel to the prefrontal cortex, and get us ready for physical action.
Your amygdala gets set off whenever it feels under threat, and it doesn’t matter if it is a life or death situation – or not.
Question: How easily are you triggered by these five common culprits of amygdala hijacking? :-
☆ Being treated unfairly
☆ Not being shown respect
☆ Being unappreciated
☆ Feeling you are not listened to or heard
☆ Feeling pressured by unrealistic expectations
For example when ‘that jerk’ cut you up on the road or didn’t indicate, when ‘that boss’ lost his temper when he couldn’t find something or even when you (yes you!), shouted at someone in that meeting.
Even though it wasn’t life or death - The brain's alarm system reacted as though it were.
The amygdala has always served an important function - to keep us safe. It likes to play it safe, and tends to take immediate steps to get you ready to fight, flee, or freeze.
That is why, when the amygdala’s calling the shots, it’s impossible to make your best decisions.
Take control back:
↬ Bringing awareness to your emotions is an important first step to calm your amygdala.
↬ Recognizing, ‘I am experiencing anger right now,’ can wake up the better decision-making part of your brain, the prefrontal cortex.
↬ Engaging the prefrontal cortex enables you to better discern whether the threat is real and how to respond both effectively and appropriately.
↬ If your amygdala could speak, what would it be saying when triggered by any of the above?
↬ If your prefrontal cortex could speak, what questions could it ask to calm you down?
The following questions will have a grounding effect:
★ Are you sure that’s how they feel?
★ Could you have misunderstood the situation?
★ Are there any alternative explanations that might be worth considering?
★ Could you be jumping to conclusions?
★ Will it necessarily turn out that way?
★ Is the worst case that you’re worried about likely to happen?
Knowing the triggers that ignite an emotional hijack in your brain, and having a plan to take back control, is a huge first step towards emotional balance and intelligence.
Emotional Intelligence is a skill to develop for those who want to lead at work, but also in their personal lives.
Evolved organisations and leaders recognise how important it is to understand and manage emotions – either their own or of others around them.
Activity: Throughout your day be aware of your thoughts and feelings to see if its your amygdala looking to hijack you and ask yourself the above questions to bring a more rational part into play before acting.
As you develop this skill in yourself you will see how others are blindly letting themselves get hijacked by something the size of an almond!