Satish was delivering a high-stakes virtual presentation to the company’s headquarters in Hong Kong. Due to a technical glitch, video connectivity disappeared just as he was about to make an important point. 

He lost his temper and started yelling at the junior who was responsible for the technical systems. Unfortunately, his audio output was still working and senior management in the Hong Kong office could hear him yell. It was an awkward situation for all.

Reva was on but kept receiving repeated calls from her office.  After one such call, something snapped in her brain, and she screamed at her young children. It frightened them and they started crying. 

Both Satish and Reva regretted their outbursts and later apologized. Such heated and impulsive reactions defy rational thinking. These are examples of an amygdala hijack, also called emotional hijacking.

What Is An Amygdala Hijack?

The definition of an amygdala hijack is a situation in which the amygdala, the emotional part of the brain hijacks or bypasses our rational reasoning process.

The term amygdala hijack was coined by psychologist and science journalist Daniel Goleman in his 1995 book, Emotional Intelligence. The amygdala is the part of the brain which regulates emotions. When triggered or threatened, it sometimes responds irrationally.

In simple words, the physiological reason for this happening is that the emotional or irrational part of the brain (i.e. the amygdala) responds to a stimulus before the information has been received by the thinking or rational part of the brain (i.e. the neocortex).  This is why it is called an amygdala hijack. It may happen because of a strong emotional trigger like anger, jealousy, betrayal or stress.

Symptoms Of An Amygdala Hijack

Cortisol and adrenaline are the two stress hormones that cause the following symptoms in your body. The body goes into fight or flight mode and reacts with the following symptoms

  • Heartbeat increases

  • Palms get sweaty

  • Goosebumps on the skin

  • Fast breathing

  • Increased blood flow to the body

How Does An Amygdala Hijack Affect Your Rational Thinking?

Goleman has stated that an amygdala hijack consists of three stages—an intense emotional reaction, its sudden onset, and the after-realization of its inappropriateness. All of it happens automatically.

Once a prospective threat is perceived, stress hormones start secreting. As a defense mechanism, the amygdala takes over your thinking process. It does not allow logic or reason to operate. You do not think clearly about the stimulus that triggers such a response. For example, you lose your temper when your child drops a serving bowl without thinking about the fact that it was slippery.

When your rational brain freezes up, you end up reacting rather than responding.  This can lead you to utter words hastily and behave in an unwarranted manner. These temporary lapses of reason can potentially destroy personal or professional relationships.

An amygdala hijack has long-term effects on your career growth, marital life, family bonds, friendships, business partnerships, and so on. What’s more, you could spend a long time—even a lifetime— regretting your extreme reaction.

So it's always better to put a stitch in time. Learn and practice the techniques of an amygdala hijack recovery. Here's how you can prevent an amygdala hijack.

  1. The 6-Second Rule

The chemicals in the brain that cause the offending outburst take about six seconds to dissipate. Wait for six seconds before you react. Take a deep breath and think of something positive. It will prevent your amygdala from taking command of your emotions.

  1. Identify Your Trigger

Once you’ve calmed down, identify what has triggered such a reaction. Determine the response that would have been proper in that situation. Communicate it frankly to the person you have hurt. This enables you to learn from your past experience and alter the course of your thinking. A calm, measured response will be invaluable if you find yourself in a similar situation in the future. In short, make an active effort to tame the emotion.

  1. Try Logical Writing

Though the logical brain wants to streamline the situation and sort things out, the emotional brain does not allow it. One of the solutions is to jot down the logical points about the situation. If you keep it in writing, you can refer to it later and make it register in your brain.

Harappa Education’s Executing Solutions course teaches you to manage expectations and respond to crises calmly. Learn how to prevent an amygdala hijack by pressing the pause button on time. To make healthy progress in your life and career, know your habitual responses and take conscious efforts to moderate them. 

Explore topics such as Ethical Decision Making, Data Driven Approach, How to draw Actionable Insights & Fight or Flight Response from our Harappa Diaries blog section and develop your skills.

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