Amygdala hijack…it's an intriguing term, but what does it mean? Let's start with some examples.
Imagine you’re doing some painting with your 3 year old . You turn your back for a minute and suddenly there’s paint everywhere and you lose it. Perhaps no matter how hard you try to tell yourself that flying is safer than driving, you start to panic whenever you get on a plane. It doesn’t matter how hard you try not to, it just happens. That’s amygdala hijack.
Amygdala hijack is an immediate, overwhelming emotional response to a trigger. Afterwards we realise that the response was out of proportion to the trigger. This can lead to irrational and even destructive behaviour.
So what is the amygdala?
The amygdala is an almond-shaped structure deep within the emotional brain. The amygdala’s job is to be alert for anything that’s potentially a threat, signalling the release of stress hormones. These hormones trigger a chain of physical reactions. Blood is diverted away from vital organs to the limbs gearing the body up for a powerful burst of physical activity. This may be useful if you have to fight or run from a sabre-toothed tiger, but not so helpful for our modern day stressors. This ancient part of the brain doesn’t think – it simply reacts and responds. Understandably, it’s fundamental to our survival as a species.
This “emotional brain” processes information milliseconds before the information reaches the neo-cortex, the rational, logical, thinking brain. In low to moderate stress situations the pre-frontal cortex calms the amygdala – we can think rationally and weigh up the pros and cons. However if the amygdala recognises incoming information as an extreme threat the amygdala shuts down (or hijacks) the neo-cortex. The rational, logical, thinking part of the brain is turned off. This is why it’s impossible to reason your way out of a phobia, such as a fear of flying. It’s an evolutionary response to severe threat when there is no time to think and action must be taken immediately. While the neo-cortex has evolved, this ancient part of the brain hasn’t evolved since pre-historic times. So today while the threat is symbolic rather than actual, our response remains the same.
So what can you do about it?
Hypnotherapy and mindfulness meditation can help but both will require regular practice. I’ve recently been studying a new technique called Brain Working Recursive Therapy (BWRT) which works with the physical brain. Not the mind, not the unconscious, but the brain. And what’s more BWRT works in that ancient part of the brain that doesn’t think and doesn’t have awareness; it just recognises information coming in and reacts. BWRT is pretty amazing – we literally do a bit of re-wiring of your brain to replace your unwanted response with how you want to be/feel. It’s fast – and it’s permanent. For more info check out www.bwrt.org – I’m now a fully qualified and insured BWRT practitioner. Appointments are available for this powerful new therapy in Buckfastleigh in Devon.