Using Emotional Intelligence To Overcome Amygdala Hijacking

    Emotional intelligence (EI) describes the ability to effectively manage one’s emotions. It’s common to hear people say that having high emotional intelligence is a gift and can help to quickly de-escalate heated situations. However, the question many wonder is how one can go about developing emotional intelligence.

    The amygdala is a cluster of almond-shaped cells located near the base of the brain. The amygdala is the central processor of emotions in the brain. When we receive sensory information, it is directed to the amygdala. The role of the amygdala is to signal the release of adrenaline and direct 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) kicks in and processes information approximately six seconds before the rational region of our brain (the neocortex). This response is known as “amygdala hijacking” and often creates irrational thinking. In some instances, it leads to outbursts that are often avoidable if the individual has time to think through things before reacting.

    Emotional Programming

    In today’s world and workforce, the need to utilize EI to avoid amygdala hijacking is greater than ever. This has created the need for emotional intelligence training in the workforce where a large portion of the training consists of seminars on how to develop emotional intelligence. These seminars typically involve training staff on how to respond to emotionally draining scenarios, 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 as coming to terms with how you manage your emotions.
    2. Self-regulation – Recognize what you can do to handle yourself in the face of emotionally challenging scenarios.
    3. Internal (or intrinsic) motivation – Staying motivated. Have a purpose in mind as you go about your day. Don’t let the negative or challenging experiences overwhelm that sense of 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 happen out of the blue and trigger 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 the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline. These hormones are both released by the adrenal glands and are what position your body to fight or flee. The good thing about this hormone release is that along with it comes identifiable symptoms that can allow you to recognize you are starting to emotionally unravel, so you can stop amygdala hijacking before it starts. These 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 and 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, have a sit 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. Engage in mindfulness

    When you have calmed your emotions, you are better able to reason logically about a 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 skills. To sharpen your emotional intelligence, carve out a roadmap: Outline Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities for Growth, and Threats (SWOT) to become more aware of where you are right now emotionally. Consider areas for improvement, roadblocks, and strategies to realize change. It takes a little bit of effort, but is certainly possible.

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