Using Emotional Intelligence To Overcome Amygdala Hijacking

    Emotional Intelligence or EI describes individuals who excel at reining in and managing their emotions. It’s common to hear people saying that having Emotional Intelligence is a gift. It can help to quickly de-escalate heated situations. The question many wonder, however, is how one can go about obtaining emotional intelligence to begin with.

    The amygdala is a cluster of almond-shaped cells located near the base of the brain. The amygdala is the central emotional processor of the brain. When we receive sensory information, it redirects to the amygdala. The role of the amygdala is to signal the release of adrenaline. This directs blood to our arms and legs, activating a type of response known as fight or flight. When this fight or flight response is  triggered, the emotional region of our brain (amygdala) essentially kicks in prior to the rational region of our brain (the neocortex) because the amygdala is able to process information approximately six seconds prior. This response is known as Amygdala Hijacking and often lends to irrational thinking, and in some instances, avoidable outbursts, had the individual had time to think things through. 

    Emotional Programming

    In today’s world and workforce, the need to utilize EI to avoid amygdala hijacking is even stronger. This has also created the need for Emotional Intelligence training in the workforce where a large portion of the training consists of seminars on how to achieve Emotional Intelligence. These seminars typically involve training staff on how to respond to emotionally-draining scenarios and usually that training emphasizes both the need to remain calm and carry on. As a result of such “brain training”, we are in many instances able to avoid our normal fight or flight response.

    The 5 Components Of Emotional Intelligence:

    1. Self-awareness – Understand who you are as a person as well and coming to terms with how you manage emotions.
    2. Self-regulation – Recognize what you can do to handle yourself in the face of emotionally unravelling scenarios.
    3. Internal (or intrinsic) motivation – Staying motivated. Have a purpose in mind as you go about your day. Don’t let the bad overwhelm that purpose.
    4. Empathy – Connecting with others through empathy. Trying to view the world through the eyes of the individuals you interact with on a daily basis.
    5. Social skills – Utilizing social skills to help navigate through adverse situations. See if you can gauge what another individual’s perspective is and use that knowledge to grow your emotional intelligence. 

    Daily Emotional Intelligence

    Knowing the five components of EI can be useful when going about your daily life and learning how to interact with people from all walks of life. But what about scenarios that are triggered out-of-the-blue and onset emotional responses?  

    Below are some go-to steps to take to help hone emotional intelligence and keep amygdala hijacking from taking over your rational self. 

    1. Recognize body changes brought on by amygdala hijacking

    When under stress, your brain releases stress hormones known as cortisol and adrenaline. These hormones are both released by adrenal glands and are what position your body to fight or flee. The good thing about hormone release is that along with it comes recognizable symptoms that can allow you to recognize you are starting to emotionally “unravel”. These generally include:

    • Increased blood flow to muscles, allowing you the strength and stamina needed to fight or flee
    • Expanded airways to allow you to take in/use more oxygen
    • Increase blood sugar for increased energy
    • Dilated pupils to improve vision for a faster response
    2. Take a six-second pause

    Upon recognizing symptoms, the next step is to avoid letting your emotions overcome you. The moment sensory stimuli hits you, try sitting down. Wait for about six seconds to allow the stimulus to pass. Doing so will help your rational brain to reply rather than reacting  from your emotional brain as it reacts to the amygdala hijack.  

    3. Mindfulness

    When you have calmed your emotions, you’d better be able to reason logically about the situation. Once ready, think through the matter at hand. Come to an internal decision on what you want to achieve and focus on next steps moving forward.  This will help you collect yourself and regain composure. One way to do this is to follow your breathing pattern or engage in some other form of breathwork. Another way to include mindfulness is to notice five things around you. A third way to do this is to indulge your senses – what can you hear, see, touch, and feel in the moment? 

    While amygdala hijacking is not going away, it can be combated using Emotional Intelligence. To hone your Emotional Intelligence, carve out a roadmap: Outline Strengths, Weaknesses,  and Opportunities for Growth and Threats (SWOT) to become more aware of where you are right now emotionally, areas for improvement,  roadblocks and strategies to realize change. It takes a little bit of effort, but is certainly possible.

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