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The Amygdala Hijack

By Ashley Huckabee

We’ve all felt the pain of finding ourselves in an argument saying things that we don’t mean and will later regret. We’ve also all experienced the opposite, feeling like a coward for all of the things we didn’t say. In both scenarios, it’s not uncommon for the result to be hours, or even days, spent kicking ourselves and fantasizing about what we wish we would’ve said. Now imagine if instead of being reactionary, you had taken a pause and put a pin in the conversation. Would the outcome be any different? The answer is a resounding “yes.”

When we’re faced with sufficient stress, we experience what is referred to as an amygdala hijack. This occurs when control of our thoughts and actions, usually governed by the frontal lobes where reasoning takes place, is transferred to the amygdala, the region of the brain responsible for our automatic survival responses like fight/flight/freeze.

The amygdala hijack may be involuntary, but it’s still possible to reestablish normal brain processes by taking certain steps:

1. Calm your sympathetic nervous system

  1. Remove yourself from the situation.

  2. Clear your mind as best you can.

  3. Take several slow, deep breaths to calm your body (diaphragmatic breathing is highly effective in combating the fight/flight/freeze response).

  4. Use EFT (tapping), meditation, or any other technique you find soothing.

  5. Repeat until your mind and body are significantly relaxed.

2. Reactivate the frontal lobes

  1. Continue taking slow, deep breaths.

  2. Jumpstart the reasoning centers of the brain

  3. Analyze the situation that triggered the hijack.

  4. Run through possible solutions.

  5. Evaluate potential outcomes and possible pitfalls for each.

From here, you can return to the conversation, and hopefully, a healthy resolution.


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