Updated: Apr 1, 2022
One simple fact about your Brain and Emotions
There is one simple fact we should all know about our brain and that is the way it processes our emotions. Do you recall the last time you lost control of your emotions and did something in the heat of the moment that you later regretted? This is when “we have lost it” to your partner or child, work colleague, or perhaps the driver of another car. And, you realized later on it was completely uncalled for, wasn’t it?
The Amygdala Hijack
In psychology, this is what we called an “Amygdala Hijack”, which was first introduced by psychologist Daniel Goleman in his book, “Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ“.
Before an Amygdala Hijack
When we see, hear, touch, or taste something, that sensory information first heads to our brain’s in the thalamus (relay station). The thalamus then relays that information to the pre-frontal cortex (thinking brain). From there, it is sent to the amygdala (emotional brain) which produces the appropriate emotional response.
During an Amygdala Hijack
However, when faced with a threatening situation, the thalamus sends sensory information to both the amygdala (emotional brain) and the pre-fronal cortex (thinking brain). If the amygdala senses danger, it makes a split-second decision to initiate the fight, flight or freeze response before your pre-frontal cortex has time to overrule it.
Fight-or-Flight or Freeze!
At a high biological level, our amygdala is like our super hero! It protects us from danger by reacting to threatening objects or events and send immediate rapid fire signals to our brain and body. Heart beats faster. Muscles tense. Blood pressure rises. Stress hormones like cortisol and adrenalin flood our system. More sweating. And many, many more reactions. To do what? To prepare our body for that fight, flight or freeze!
Imagine if you are in the jungle and a snake suddenly drops down in front of you from the tree branch! Yes, it is our amygdala that helps us to decide in that split second whether to fight the snake, flee from the snake or freeze!
And as we know, many of the threats we face today are symbolic and not necessarily physically endangering. For instance, when we’re angry, sad, or stressed the amygdala thinks there’s real imminent danger. And when our amygdala is triggered and shuts down the neural pathway to our prefrontal cortex, our prefrontal cortex loses it usual capabilities of problem solving, logic and reasoning!
Last week, I shared the post about noticing what flipped your lid. Have you start noticing your recent emotional states and notice if there were triggering events that causes you to lose it? Have you been in that heated conflict with someone where you were not able to see broader or different perspectives? Worse still, did you even forget the positive things about that person?
Now that you know about this simple fact about your brain and emotions, what an Amygdala Hijack is and why your amygdala did what it did, do you notice things make more sense now?
If you have seen me 8-10 years ago, I was a very different person. Being in the highly fast paced stressful work environment and a new inexperienced mom, I have allowed myself to be affected by the environment. I snapped at people easily and react to situations instantaneously. I get triggered with the slightest unpleasant event.
The Good News
Yes, the good news is that we can all re-train our amygdala. It takes time and is possible! I did! In next week’s blog, I will share simple changes you can make immediately in your life to retrain your amygdala. You don’t need to spend significant amount of time to achieve this!
With love & empowerment,