Guess what? It’s not your fault!
Neuro- Science (Study of the brain) has identified what’s called an Amygdala attack. I’ll give you a basic description and then I’ll tell you how you can manage this attack so you lessen stress and save relationships.
In his book “Emotional Intelligence at Work”, Daniel Goleman identifies 2 parts of the brain:
1) Cortex – (conscious, thinking part of the brain)
2) Limbic system – (non-conscious, emotional part of the brain)
This latter non-conscious Limbic system is where we store all of our memories, habits, past experiences, and it’s where our emotions are generated. The job of the Limbic system is really to protect us…. from additional hurts and bad experiences etc. So when it detects a threat, it literally hijacks our cortex and renders us unable to think rationally. That’s when we experience the well known fight, flight or freeze response. It’s called an Amygdala attack because the Amygdala is an area in the Limbic part of the brain.
There you have it! A scientific explanation for why we sometimes fly off the handle or say things to others we wish we hadn’t said. And while it’s cool to know it’s not our fault, it’s also not a productive or attractive way to deal with our emotions.
When you notice someone or something has pushed your buttons and you feel those negative emotions rising, it’s your opportunity to practice emotional discipline and lower the intensity of those negative emotions.
Here are 7 tips to help you keep your cool:
1. Pause and Breath! Take a slow deep breath. Of course you’ve heard this before but there’s a good reason for it….you want to breath oxygen into your cortex hoping to keep that rational mind engaged and prevent a full out hijack.
2. Pet an animal. Now there’s justification for bringing your pets to work! Ok, it’s not always possible however if you’re at home and have a pet, it’s known to have a calming effect.
3. Exercise if you can, or at the very least if you’re at work get up and move the energy around.
4. Take a time out. Put some space between you and whoever or whatever it was that pushed your button. You might even say “I need some time to process that, let’s get back together this afternoon”.
5. Be sure you eat! Dr. Oz recently aired a show on this exact topic. He filmed a female at work screaming into the telephone. I was really embarrassed for her though I’m sure half the audience and including myself have been guilty of something similar. It turns out she hadn’t eaten since the day before. Now think about it, aren’t you much more likely to want to attack somebody when you’re hungry? Dr. Oz suggests carrying a baggie full of healthy nuts and dried fruit as a way to avoid impatience and losing control.
6. Meditation influences emotional processing even when you’re not meditating according to a recent article in the Huffpost. It has an accumulative effect and can help you maintain a sense of calm throughout the day.
7. Shift your focus to something that feels better as quickly as you can. I often use gratitude as my ‘go to’ emotional tool. When was the last time you were mad or angry and grateful at the same time? It’s just not possible.
I’d encourage you now to list your triggers; be it long lines at the grocery store, slow drivers, or a certain person or topic that just rubs you the wrong way. Then choose your ‘go to’ tool so you can control your emotions before they control you.
With awareness, emotional discipline and lots of practice, we can all learn to manage our negative emotions and ACT differently then the way you feel!