The term emotional “Hijacking” was coined by neuroscientist Dr. Daniel Goleman and describes in simple terms how you can go about your “normal business” and all of a sudden your “thinking brain” (pre-frontal cortex) gets hijacked by your emotional brain (amygdala).
When this survival response occurs, a different part of your brain directs your thoughts. The tricky thing is, you may not find yourself in a survival situation yet your brain just went on “strike”. You may have had the best of intentions to work on something specific and yet your focus was pulled elsewhere by emotional reactionary thoughts. For example this past week I created an intention and set aside ½ a day to craft my 6 month strategic plan, but the time for doing it was “eaten up” by an emotional hijacking experience which prompted me to write about it in this post.
In light of an incredible week of meditation I made the decision to use my quieted mind to make bigger decisions in my life, clean the “closets” so to speak, prioritize, eliminate the drains and focus on what truly mattered in my work.
I set aside a morning that started with an hour long of meditation, some yoga and a walk in the woods. By 10:30 I was ready to tackle the task at hand and the phone rang.
A really dear friend of mine was having digestive issues, all my friends know that I have been certified as a health coach and love to read and study what improves health. I am sometimes called for advice on what to do when issues arise. Now that particular friend tends to be a little “hypochondriac”, at times I feel that ½ of my work is simply to calm down his fears and my other half is to give simple and tactical advice on how to handle the situation.
After listening and giving my advice the phone call ended, but not my focus on his problem. Even though the conversation was done I remained “involved” in wanting to help more. I began doing more research on the topic, which took me until noon, I then had lunch and started my strategy session but found myself unable to focus.
I had to ask.. what is going on?
I was feeling anxious and as a result unable to focus. Of course, the more I began reacting to my state of being the worse it got.
I decided to take a little break and meditate to see if I could find some inner peace and hopefully get back on track with my intention to create my strategy.
I was so disappointed.. because just a few hours before I was feeling great and ready to tackle the world and bam.. I got “hit” by my emotional brain!
Can You Relate?
Most people I work with can, especially if you have had past experiences that were traumatic, your “fight-or-flight” trigger may be more sensitive than others. At times when your “emotional brain” reacts without warning it simply means that you have now been pulled back in some past memories triggered by your current experience.
What You Can Do About It
In my case as soon as I stopped trying to force my way to continue to focus, gave myself a 15 minute meditation break, I calmed down and things started to make sense again, I was ready to get back on track.
Sometimes it is not that easy.. so here are some tips on what to do if you find yourself emotionally “hijacked”.
1. Become aware of your state of feeling/being
Identify that you are actually emotionally hijacked. Basically recognize that your emotions have taken over and that they are not relevant to the current situation.
How do you know?
If you get scared, angry or go blank and there is no threat in front of you, your pre-frontal cortex has now relinquished its right to your reptilian brain. As soon as you recognize this fact, you are making your way back to the present moment.
2) Do something to shift the energy
Stop what you are doing. If you are in the middle of a conversation, don’t force yourself to continue talking or try to make decisions. Simply say “I’ll have to get back to you about this” or “let me think about it”.
If you are by yourself, pull away from what you are doing and do something to shift your body. Go outside if you can and take a breath, walk around the block, make a cup of tea, stretch or take 5 minutes to meditate. If the intensity is too much, call someone to sort things out. Do what you need to do to regain a calmer state of body and mind.
3) Focus on doing something simple
If you are in the midst of a complex project or attempting to create something new, don’t go there right away. Begin working on something simple and once your mind is able to focus, go back to the more complex tasks. For example, if you are in the midst of creating marketing copy for a new program, your mind might not be able to be creative yet. Shift your focus on responding to email inquiries or pay bills.
4) Identify the trigger and connect it to its root cause
Once you are able to have some mental space, identify what happened and the place that got triggered inside of you. This may take some time so be patient with yourself. Most people who have had to deal with past trauma are not always able to put words onto things that happened to them. They are at first a “ball of emotions” then eventually with some help- a coach, therapist, friend or anyone who can listen and has insight- can name the emotion that got triggered then see the link to its past inception. This step is important because awareness with acceptance will shift the response you have next time. It may not eliminate it completely but it will decrease its impact once something similar happens in the future like this.
5) Thank yourself for your commitment to personal growth and consciousness
I really mean this! Most people spend their life not wanting to pay attention to what challenges them thus repeating the same patterns over and over. If you are reading this, it truly means that you have made the commitment to make your business and personal growth process one and the same.
I honor your commitment for this! Let me know if you have any questions!