Article Contributed by Guest Author Betty Mahalik
You’ve most likely heard the term “emotional hijacking” (or “amygdala hijacking”), coined by Dr. Daniel Goleman to describe what happens when a person’s emotions become overwhelming, causing them to “flip out.” Such an episode can result in physical, mental and emotional damage to both the person experiencing the hijacking, and others who might be watching or be the victim(s) of such an episode.
It starts with a triggering incident, often something relatively minor in the grand scheme of things: a driver that cuts you off in traffic, a petulant teenager, or an employee who fails to follow directions. The incident sets in motion an emotional and physiological “runaway train” that can cause serious damage to your health and relationships.
The thoughtless words, the negative comments, the temper tantrum may produce emotional scars that never go away. Virtually everyone has had one of these adrenaline-fueled fits where we feel powerless to control the emotional tidal wave.
But we aren’t powerless! We can learn to circumvent our emotional outbursts and safely “dispose” of the negative emotions in healthier ways. Here are seven ways to recover from an emotional hijacking:
1) When your emotional trigger gets tripped, stop as soon as possible. That’s right stop! Stop your rant, stop your mental terrorist attack on the situation. Stop! I don’t mean to stop driving if you happen to be. But if your meltdown is happening in the car, stop focusing on anything but the matter at hand—driving.
2) Take some deep breaths. Breathing calms the emotions and simultaneously the mind. Deep breathing is a known antidote to the adrenalized, heart-pumping fight-or-flight response brought on by an emotional hijacking. Practice it often and always when the rush of emotions threatens to overtake you.
3) Count to 6. Growing up you probably heard the old adage to count to is 10. Turns out there’s a lot of truth in that. Researchers have discovered it takes about 6 seconds for the response to a triggering event to move from the fight or flight center in the brain to the pre-frontal area where rational thought takes place. Count to at least 6 before saying a word or taking an action and you may just save yourself from going over the edge.
4) Put yourself in “time out.” If possible change your physical location. Go someplace quiet where you can down-shift and work through some of the other steps.
5) Ask yourself what the real problem is, or how best to solve or address the issue you’re facing. You may realize it’s only a problem because you’re making it one. Trying to “prove” that another driver is a jerk, for example, will be a futile and possibly dangerous endeavor. Besides, allowing the stress-induced fit to continue robs you of brain power. According to one research study, allowing your emotional reactions to run rampant can cause you to temporarily lose up to 15% of your cognitive thinking ability!
6) After the incident, concentrate on calming down even further. If possible stop your activity completely and repeat numbers 2, 3, and 4 until calm and reason return. You’ll be doing others as well as your nervous system a huge favor by taking the time to physically, mentally and emotionally regain your balance. The stress from an emotional hijacking can have a serious effect on your physical health so taking the time to “de-tox” is well worth it!
7) Finally, have a short internal command you can issue when you feel yourself losing it. Good possibilities are “Calm down!” or “Pause!” Silly and simple as it sounds, just telling yourself mentally to calm down or pause can interrupt the emotional flood long enough to regain your composure.
Now take a deep breath and reflect on the words of this Chinese proverb: “If you are patient in one moment of anger, you will escape a hundred days of sorrow.”