Managing fear without letting it control you?

Managing fear without letting it control you?

How many times have you lost control over your emotions and done something that you later regret?

You may have lost control or blown up at someone - your spouse, child, colleague, or even a driver who drove near you on the road. You were not just angry, you were furious! If any of these have ever happened to you, it means that your amygdala is likely to have hijacked your mind.

Yes - the amygdala! We didn't make this word up. In order to respond quickly to threats, our brain has an ancient component called the amygdala.

Our amygdala can protect us from danger, but it can also interfere with our day-to-day life in an age like we're living in, where most treats are subtle. When trying to control our fears it is crucial to understand our brain as a whole (at least the things science knows about the brain for now) and the amygdala in particular. So with no further ado - let's dive in... 

Taking a peek back in time

When you see, hear, touch, or taste something, your brain sends sensory information to the thalamus, which transmits this information to the neocortex (AKA 'The thinking brain') and the amygdala (AKA 'The emotional brain').

During a threatening situation, the thalamus sends sensory information to both the amygdala and neocortex, which then activates the 'Fight-or-flight response' (צריך להוסיף כאן היפר לינק)

During our evolution, our minds have evolved to deal with physical threats that require fast responses. Like a bear that starts chasing you or another tribe that unexpectedly invades your territory, etc. Despite the fact that today's potential treats are much more subtle, our brain looks at them as it looked at the life-threatening threats ages ago and activates the same biological mechanism.  

Mental Health and the Amygdala

Chronic stress or anxiety and certain other mental health conditions can also affect the fear circuitry in the brain.

As an example, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is known to be associated with an increase in amygdala activation.

People with other anxiety disorders, such as social anxiety disorder (SAD) and panic disorder may also have an overactivity in the amygdala.

In order to prevent chronic stress-induced amygdala hijacking and short-term memory problems, you must understand and control your emotional reactions.

You can avoid an amygdala-induced overreaction by learning coping mechanisms and planning ahead.

Stress Management

Identifying acute, everyday stress that has become chronic stress and using stress management techniques can help prevent amygdala hijacking.

It is important to have fast-acting stress relievers (such as breathing exercises) to provide immediate relief in stressful situations, as well as healthy habits to reduce overall stress (such as exercise, meditation, and journaling).

6 Highly effective things to know to find relief

  1. Although mindfulness and stress management are extremely effective in preventing Amygdala hijacks, they can take some time to learn and incorporate into your daily routine.
  2. In these moments, say to yourself, "I'm feeling triggered right now." Look for changes in your tone, tightness in your chest or stomach, clenching in your jaw or hands, etc., when you are triggered. By raising your awareness to it, you can reduce the level of stress. 
  3. After an amygdala hijack, the chemicals released dissipate in six seconds. Focusing on something pleasant during this time will prevent your amygdala from taking over and causing you to feel a strong emotion. So it's a good time to remind yourself of a positive thing that happened to you recently or even just to look at something pleasant or sweet. 
  4. Become aware of your breath and slow it down. You activate your parasympathetic nervous system when you slow down your breath and make it rhythmic. A simple way to do it is to take long breaths while slowly inhaling from the nose and slowly exhaling from the mouth. As a result of this type of deep breathing, your nervous system becomes calmer and you can make thoughtful decisions during stressful times.
  5. Keep an eye out for things in your environment and take note of them. When you do this, you'll simply get outside your head and return yourself to the present moment.
  6. If you think about your reactions, it will also help you develop your emotional intelligence over time, especially when they aren't reflective of your true self.

    So the next time your amygdala tries to hijack your mind - you know what to do. The more you practice this process, the less your amigdala tries to hijack you.