I am tense. I am racing to meet my report deadline before I can get dinner started… the doorbell rings. Vexed at the interruption, I get up hurriedly. The tea spills. I rescue my papers and start mopping the spill… The bell goes off again. And I… lose it. I shout at the delivery guy, the bag breaks as I grab it, potatoes and tomatoes tumble out. Kicking them aside, I slam the door. Hot and bothered, raging and fuming, I get back to work. I send the report finally. As I get dinner going and lay the table, I am not too happy with myself. I am troubled by the realization that I did not handle the situation well. Why did I get so angry? Why did I shout at the man? Why did I create such a ruckus?
Because I let myself get hijacked by my amygdala.
Amygdala is the lower part of the brain that kicks into action when something evokes intense emotions within us. When I heard the doorbell ring, a wave of emotions coursed through me ~ irritation, annoyance, anxiety, anger, frustration, panic… My amygdala, conditioned since times immemorial to evoke the fight-or-flight response in the face of threat, made me react impulsively and intuitively, without giving me time to weigh all possible options and their consequences. A response which I much regretted later.
Quite a few of us get easily bothered. When anything goes any other way than we expect, we fly off the handle. We lash out. Sometimes, we sulk and withdraw. Why? Why do we hop on to the emotional rollercoaster at the smallest of things?
When all we need to do is: PAUSE. Take a deep breath. Count to 10.
When we press the pause button, we get precious milliseconds to take in what is happening and track our feelings and thoughts. Slowing down awakens the pragmatic centers of our brain so that we can thinkingly respond to the provocation rather than unconsciously react to it. As celebrated psychotherapist Victor Frankl says, “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”
When the bell rang, I could have paused and accepted the fact that I had no other option but to attend to it. I could have gotten up quietly, taken the groceries calmly, and gone back to work mindfully without letting the interruption play havoc with my mind. And I would have felt great about completing my work on schedule.
I have to admit, I easily tend to ‘lose it’. And every time, it leaves me distressed. And also horrified by the kind of example I am setting for my children. What will they learn from a trigger-happy mom?
Fortunately, my children understand me and my weaknesses and point out when I go overboard in my reactions… Mom, there was no need to shriek at the maid when she came in late or holler at us when we didn’t clear the table or thunder at the telemarketer or burst out when that man jumped the queue…
And I realize that it is entirely up to me. The ball is in my court. I have to change my emotional irrational self into a sensitive thoughtful one. For me, this has become top priority.
So I have defined a protocol for myself. Admitting my weakness to myself has been the first step… But instead of filling my mind with negativity and indulging in self-defeating inner talk, I have made a commitment to myself: that I will be less easily bothered, especially by small things. I have taught myself to recognize the triggers that make me go at the world with a dagger. The moment I begin to make a go for the kill, I pull myself back sharply with a “There I go again!” And once I am able to delay my outburst and give myself time to think, I automatically react sanely. Needless to say, my sense of achievement is huge.
And though I still ‘lose it’ once in a while, I am sure my family has noticed (and appreciate) my progress in the right direction. As for me, I am calm, collected, in control. AND Happier.
2 thoughts on “The Amygdala Hijack!”
amen to mindfulness!` I keep getting inspired, near or far!
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Me too! All the time!