Virginia at Work: Amygdala hijacking

Local News

Amygdala hijacking is a term many people haven’t heard, but something they have more than likely witnessed.

In a nutshell, most of us call it “losing our minds.” It’s that moment when someone just crossed the line, you feel your anger rising and your instant reaction is most likely not going to be kind, or for that matter productive.

“The amygdala is like this valve for your fight, flight, or freeze mechanisms,” says Lynda McNutt Foster, the CEO of Cortex Leadership Consulting.

During her leadership courses with area executives, she spends quite a bit of time on the topic. She says leaders face an extreme amount of pressure, and she helps them find the tools to cope. Foster often reminds her clients when anxiety is up, productivity is down, and that threatens the success of any workplace.

“The way to avoid an amygdala hijacking is great stress management over time, is to be able to learn to focus on your breathing, understand when you’re starting to become anxious. At the very beginning stage of anxiety, you have a way to sort of turn off that valve, calm down, calm your breathing. It’s this regular stress maintenance exercise, eating right, drinking water, doing all the things that help your brain function the best,” adds Foster.

She works closely with TTI Success Insights and utilizes the company’s research to help executives in our area with team and relationship building. Ron Bonstetter, the VP of Research at TTI Success Insights explains that instant reaction kept us alive in the early history of humans … running from danger to survive.  

Bonstetter explains, “Here’s what’s happening, when you are triggered by somebody inflaming you, with something you don’t necessarily agree with, you must recognize, and here’s the power of knowledge, you must realize what’s going on biologically so you can deal with it. You can’t change the biology. When I’m threatened, what happens is the amygdala is triggered. The amygdala sends out cortisol and adrenaline and both those hormones completely shut off the executive function part of the brain. You are not going to be able to analyze and think clearly. You are going to be able to react. It’s all about reaction. As soon as that happens, the reaction is good when you are trying to  back away from a snake, it can be bad when you don’t recognize this is not a snake, this is something I better back up on and think about. So, we’ve got to counteract that immediate response, that biological response, and slow down.”

When you are in the middle of an amygdala hijacking, he cautions the best thing to do is remove yourself from the situation.  We’ve all heard the advice to count to ten, or wait to send the email.

In her Cortex Leadership classes, Foster helps leaders focus on stress management, a practice she says takes time.

“It’s amazing what happens with clients when they learn to identify their anxiety levels. They stop having amygdala hijackings. They’re able to progress so much faster in their careers because the damage that incident does to them at work, sometimes is irreparable,” says Foster.

WFXR and Lynda McNutt Foster sat down to talk to Ron Bonstetter about the work done at TTI Success Insights and the science behind the amygdala hijacking. The podcast is broken down into part one, part two, and part three.

You can also click here for a closer look at the research Foster compiled for her executive clients of Cortex Leadership Consulting.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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