You’re angry, scared, overwhelmed, feeling attacked… You act out, saying or doing something out of character. Or you freeze. Could it be an amygdala hijack?
You’re stressed and react as if your life was being threatened. Some event, an email, a confrontation, public speaking or your boss triggered you leaving you in an emotional overload and fending for your life.
The truth is that is is unlike you. It’s unlike you because part of your brain is shut off. This would be critical if your life was in danger, like if you were being chased by a tiger.
The problem is that your brain can’t tell the difference.
An Amygdala Hijack (term coined by Daniel Goleman in his book Emotional Intelligence) occurs during the fight, flight or freeze stress response. An Amygdala Hijack is an immediate and overwhelming emotional response out of proportion to the stimulus because it has triggered a more significant emotional threat.
The amygdala is the part of our brain that handles emotions. During an Amygdala Hijack, the amygdala “hijacks” or shuts down the neo-cortex. Our neo-cortex is responsible for logical, rational thinking, conscious thought and sensory perception.
This brain functioning served our ancestors well in the caveman days when their life was actually threatened by saber tooth tigers. They needed a brain that allowed them to suddenly run quickly without thinking about it.
So how do we go from cave man survivor to digital age thriver using the same neural equipment?
The fact is that our brain’s are wired this way. Fortunately, we can choose to be more emotionally resilient and improve our emotional intelligence by developing a regular mindful meditation practice.
Mindfulness allows us to train our brains to be the observer of our emotions without being taken over by them.
So the good news is that improving your emotional intelligence can be as simple as remembering to focus on your breath when you are triggered in an emotionally overwhelming situation.