You do yoga, you meditate, you smile and put on that calm face; but life isn’t always rainbows and kittens. Sometimes the sticky parts of life sneak up on us, and take over our normally calm demeanor.
We all have those moments, someone cuts you off while driving, your spouse over-drafts your checking account for the third time in one month, your kids back talk you, your co-worker takes the credit for the project YOU created, your boss hands you that big project that’s due on Monday…at 4:30 Friday afternoon, etc.…. And let’s be honest, the moments that come after these life incidents aren’t always PG-13, they aren’t pretty, and they certainly aren’t the picture perfect moments you put on your Christmas card.
Congratulations, you’re human!
There are times in life when we feel a compulsion come over us. Then, all of the sudden, all of the years of yoga, meditation and calming techniques seem to go right out the window. We see red. We find ourselves turning into that not-so-nice version of ourselves that we would like to keep locked away from the rest of the world. Our emotions begin to take the reigns and pull us down into their depths. Be it anger, anxiety, deep sadness, jealousy, frustration or guilt- the emotion has the reigns and we are merely along for the ride.
If you feel like the emotions are taking over your rational brain and turning you into a completely different person, you are not crazy!
The rational part of our brain is the neocortex, this is the center of our logical thinking. The neocortex is the most advanced part of our brain, the part of the brain that allows for reasoning, control of our impulses, problem solving, language and abstract thought. During our normal day-to-day lives, the neocortex is in control and we go about acting like a rational, level-headed person. Then there are days, when a perfect storm of sticky life situations explodes.
The dreaded AMYGDALA HIJACK follows.
The amygdala is the two small, almond shaped parts of our brain that is responsible for processing emotions. This is the primal part of our brain that triggers a “fight or flight” response in our bodies. When we are triggered by outside stimuli (the forgetful spouse, the irrational teenager, the angry driver), our amygdala goes into overdrive and all of the sudden, our neocortex is no longer in control of our reasoning.
We feel changes in our body, such as tension, your heart begins to pump, and that vein on your forehead looks like it’s about to burst. There’s a change in your breathing as well. Stress hormones (cortisol) coarse through our bodies. Our inner Hulk begins to surface.
STEP ONE: Admitting you have a problem. You must realize that you are having an amygdala hijack and accept that you are not 100% in control of the next few minutes (or hours).
STEP TWO: Find a word (keep it G-rated) that will signal to those closest to you that you are not in the most loving state of mind. Come up with one words that means “I do understand we need to discuss this topic, however, I need a minute” (My husband and I use the word Pineapple). Come up with a different word that means “This has nothing to do with you, I’m just having a moment and need some space” (You could stay in the fruit family and go with orange…or perhaps change it up to BATMAN, whatever works!)(Tip: Make sure you are using these words with people who already understand their meaning, yelling PINEAPPLE at the rude man at the airport counter will not make you look sane.)
STEP THREE: Breathe. Take a moment to breathe. I like to use the 4-3-5 breathing technique. Inhale through your nose for a count of 4. Hold your breath for a count of 3 and then exhale through your nose for a count of 5.
STEP FOUR: If possible, get into nature ASAP. Roll down your car window, take a walk, hop on your bike, or just lie down in the grass…find mother nature and commune with her!
STEP FIVE: Sensate. This is a tip I use not only when I’m having an Amygdala Hijack, but also when my brain begins obsess over a past event or worry over a future idea. I use this technique to help calm my nerves when anxiety starts creepin’ around. Simply begin to verbalize (out loud or in your head), everything you are seeing, hearing, smelling, feeling, tasting etc. Get in touch with your senses. Don’t think, just call out everything: tree, green, stop sign, red, octagon, cat, fur, sweet, spicy, car horn…etc.
STEP SIX: Give yourself time. Show yourself some compassion. Badgering yourself for having a perfectly normal human reaction isn’t going to help anyone!
STEP SEVEN: Re-enter the world and have conversations. You know you are ready to go back and discuss the fight you had with your spouse or kids when you can calmly and rationally verbalize a list (states, continents, cat breeds etc.). Then the work can begin. Mend the fences you may have broken during your Amygdala Hijack. Discuss with your loved ones what is making you upset. Get to work on that project. Clean up the plate you threw across the room…whatever you need to do.
Although having an Amygdala Hijack is human, we all want to lessen those moments of rage, anxiety, jealousy, sadness etc. There are ways we can begin to train our brains to fight off those pesky hijacks and give us a bit more time before we react harshly to situations.
Mindfulness meditation has been proven to increase the density of grey matter in the brain. An increase in grey matter in the brain can better help one manage emotions, and focus on tasks. It is recommended that you practice mindfulness meditation 45-60 minutes a day to achieve the full effects of this exercise. If 45-60 minutes seems out of reach for you now, then start with a few mindful tasks throughout the day.
When you are washing dishes, focus only on washing the dishes. Tune into your senses. What are you seeing, hear, smelling, feeling? When your mind begins to wander, gently bring it back to the task at hand.
Take a walk and focus solely on the task of walking. Focus on your feet meeting the earth, the wind rustling your hair, the color of the leaves.
Sit for a moment and close your eyes. Focus your attention on your breath. How does it feel as you inhale through your nose? Focus on the movement of your body on your inhales and exhales. When the mind begins to ramble, take notice of the thoughts, but don’t attach any emotions to the thoughts, allow the thoughts to come and go. Bring your attention back to your breath.
These are just a few examples of some mindful practices you can utilize throughout the day. For more information on mindful practices visit: http://www.the-guided-meditation-site.com/mindfulness-exercises.html. And remember, these practices aren’t just for grown-ups. Kids can definitely benefit from learning how to take back control of their brain’s reactions.
I first learned about the science of an Amygdala Hijack and techniques to help combat these emotions from Michael Gregory through the Mindfulness Meditation Center Retreat. http://mindfulnessmeditationcenters.com
For more information about your brain, stress and meditation, visit: