We like to think that we are in control of our emotions. In some instances, we are. And some people have a tighter grip on their emotional steering wheel than others. But no matter who we are or the situation we’re in—our emotions do have the power to control us.
For example, have you ever responded to someone rashly, and regret it later because you couldn’t think straight at the time? Or do you remember an instance in which you turned something down or walked away and later wished you stayed to inquire more?
In these high-stress moments, you had a knee jerk reaction to act a certain way when in fact, if you had been in control of your emotions, you may have chosen a different route.
Fear, stress, shock, anxiety—all such emotions and more make us susceptible to give up control.
Within these intense moments is when a certain part of the brain known as the amygdala is triggered and has the power to hijack our responses to make us either fight or flight in the given situation. The only effective way to gain back control is with a substantial amount of emotional intelligence.
Amygdala and the Fight-or-Flight Response
The amygdala is a key player in the brain’s ability to process memory, decision-making, and emotions. Involved in the fear circuit of the brain, some of the main emotions the amygdala responds to are fear, anxiety, and stress.
Some examples of experiencing fear at work could be public speaking in a meeting or presentation, or experiencing confrontation. Other stressful situations may include fear of losing our job or not completing a task by the deadline.
When the brain senses a threatening situation, either mentally or physically, it notifies the amygdala, the emotional part of the brain, and the cortex, the rational part. Before the cortex has time to respond, the fight-or-flight response is triggered and the amygdala makes a split-second decision on how to respond to the apparent danger.
This process is known as an “amygdala hijack” because the amygdala takes over our emotional response, and we act unconsciously without our cortex to help us think clearly. Some physical symptoms of an amygdala hijack include increased heartbeat, sweating, shaking, goosebumps, and nausea.
The fight-or-flight response began as a survival technique to help our ancestors and other mammals respond quickly to life-threatening instances. While the mechanism has evolved with time, it’s certainly not bulletproof and can cause regret and damage when the response is one we wouldn’t have chosen had we had the rational part of our brain been in control.
In the workplace, emotions run high—our reputation, career, and livelihood are on the line. And our brain can respond to stress in the same way it would respond to a physical threat. Emotional outbursts can be harmful in a workplace settings, so learning to control our amygdala is really important.
Preventing an amygdala hijack from happening is entirely possible if we harness a high level of EQ, or emotional intelligence. But this cure doesn’t come without patience and persistence.
Two main components of emotional intelligence are self-awareness and self-regulation, which means that we’re able to detect our own emotions as we’re feeling them and can manage them effectively in communication. Quite the opposite of an amygdala hijack, eh?
Emotionally intelligent people also know their triggers, which helps them recognize when an amygdala hijack may attempt to occur. Because having a high level of emotional intelligence means we are in-touch with and in control of our emotions, we’re able to de-escalate them.
Looking back on moments when we overreacted or had a “freakout” moment can give us insight into our own triggers and help us determine better responses for the next time our stressors or fears are present. What/who triggered you? How did you feel, physically and emotionally? Were your thoughts at the time realistic? How could’ve have viewed or responded to the situation differently?
Constantly being aware of our emotions gives us the ability to step away from them and gain a new perspective that is less-biased, giving us a clearer view of the situation. Practice naming your emotions as your feel them throughout the day. When you notice anxiety or stress, take a timeout from the situation to gain back control of your emotions and responses. Take deep breaths and begin to reasoning the situation.
You can begin to get a sense of how far along your emotional intelligence is by reading up on Knowted’s research. Knowted is here to help you optimize your personal and professional performances through many products and services.