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  • Writer's pictureSyed Ahmed

How to control Amygdala Hijack?

Simple ways to stay in control

Photo by Kote Puerto on Unsplash

The amygdala is an almond-shaped structure in the brain. It is involved in processing emotions. There are two of these structures: one in each hemisphere of the brain. Both are located near the base. Psychologist Daniel Goleman first used the term “amygdala hijacking” in his 1995 book Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ.

It refers to situations wherein the amygdala hijacks control of a person’s ability to respond rationally to a threat. This then leads to the person reacting in an intense, emotional way that may be out of proportion to the situation. Without the ability to use their frontal lobes, a person is unable to think clearly. Therefore, they are not in control of their responses.

Amygdala is not an enemy but a savior, it has saved us for millions of years from dangerous animals, situations, and also from other human beings who were possible threats to our lives.

Our body doesn't know that most of us now live and work in modern safe environments where our lives are not threatened, so when a boss shouts at us or someone close to us sneezes during Covid our amygdala gets activated and we fall for the natural responses which are Fight, Flight or Freeze. This overrides our rational thinking and we sometimes end up taking wrong decisions or just evading difficult conversations.

In order to keep our amygdala in check and stay in control, we can do the following:

  1. avoid negativity: stay away from negative news and if possible anxious and paranoid people. Anxiety and negativity can be highly contagious so if you are spending a lot of time with people who are worried about the future or always talk about the possible wrong things that can happen to them or you. That's is a sign that you need to move away. Also if you are suffering from Fear of Missing out (FOMO) and watch the news 24 hours a day or have an app that keeps nudging you with notifications, disable all notifications and control your FOMO.

  2. spend time doing nothing: it is important to give yourself a break from overwhelming information download that we subject ourselves to, we are always connected with technology. Try putting your phone on silent and indulge yourself in a long-forgotten activity of "Daydreaming". Go back to your imagination and spend some time with yourself.

  3. have a 30,00 feet view of your life: It is important to put things into perspective, whatever is happening is a very small part of your life and you too are a very tiny part of the universe, let us think about the catastrophes of our lives from school time when those final exams were the biggest hurdles of our lives, then job interviews...we tend to make the small stuff really big. So next time you go through an episode of catastrophizing tell yourself "this too shall pass" it is a very small part of my life, let me focus on what needs to be done and not worry too much about the future.

  4. practice deep breathing: a sign of amygdala hijack is shallow breathing and high palpitation, to counter it we need to start focussing on breathing and make sure we start breathing from the belly. Try the three-step process, step one breathe in as much air as possible from your nose slowly, step two, pause for a second and step three breathe out from your mouth again as slowly as possible. By breathing deeply you signal your brain to stop panicking and the body starts relaxing again

  5. identify your hot buttons: every time your amygdala gets hijacked make a note of it and identify the hot button: what happened? what did the other person do or say triggered it? What situations or circumstances make you lose it? by increasing awareness, you will be able to control it.

  6. verbalize your emotions: instead of acting on your emotions and start speaking them out for example start telling people that you are feeling uneasy, tied up, the discussion is disturbing you or you would like to take a break and speak about this later as you do not feel comfortable discussing it right now.

If you want to learn how to have difficult conversations contact us today


Syed Ahmed Hussaini

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