You know that rising tide of red mist that whips you into a frenzied state of madness and lunacy? The times that you flip out when someone pushes your buttons, and you just let them have it, both barrels? It’s known as amygdala hijacking.
‘What the…..?’, I hear you ask?
Your amygdala is a part of your brain that regulates the fight or flight response, triggered when you are facing a perceived threat. The hormones and chemicals that are released when you are challenged or threatened allow you to fight with the strength of ten, or flee with the speed of a startled gazelle. Often, we metaphorically tear the head off someone within the immediate proximity, an act we later regret, unsure of what came over us. This is us being hijacked by our amygdala.
But what to do? Sometimes when we are stressed, we lack the self-awareness to interrupt the hijacking before it commences, and we get sucked into its vortex. When less stressed, we choose our response more carefully, and resist the temptation to tear someone a new one. Our prefrontal cortex, or thinking area of our brain, has time to over-ride the amygdala, thus averting a crisis, and damage to a relationship.
Remember the old advice to count to ten? Turns out it takes about six seconds for the chemicals released by the amygdala to dissipate, so if you can just hang in there, you might be able to let the moment pass, and choose a more moderate response. Breathe your way through the pause, to release the tension, and imagine that you are exhaling the stress hormones.
Try humour. It can ease the tension, and maintain a relationship, while letting the other person know that they need to avoid your triggers.
Finally, once you are calm, try to identify what the trigger actually is, and work on reducing your attachment to it.
You’ll be glad you did.