How to Deal With an Emotional Response and Regain Rational Control

How to recognize the signs of an emotional physical reaction. Steps to reduce stress and regain emotional control. Tips for avoiding emotional vulnerability.

How to destress after an "Amygdala Hijack" or emotional response

For anyone who has ever been "so mad that I saw red" or got so wound up over something that they became "hopping mad" there is a very good reason - you can blame it on your Mother, in this case, Mother Nature.  We have all be hard-wired from birth to have a physical reaction to perceived threats which is the well known "fight or flight" response.  Our ancestors had to be able to physically respond to threats from predators, nature, or warring tribes.  When the brain (in this case the Amygdala) sent out the "alarm" the body responded with a flood of adrenaline to increase heart rate, constrict blood vessels, and add physical strength.  Higher brain functions, like rational thought and speech, were temporarily "shunted" off. 

Though the days of daily battles with large predatory beasts may be gone (or at least restricted to allegorical "office beasts"), the physiological response remains and the body/brain connection still functions when we perceive threats from modern stressors.  So when you receive that annual performance rating or the guy in the next lane cuts you off in traffic, your brain processes this "perceived threat" and your body responds by cutting off your higher mental processes, raising your blood pressure, and flooding your blood stream with hormones and glycogen in preparation for "fight or flight."   The following information may help you over come this reaction and regain control of your emotional/mental state.

First and most importantly, Stop or pause in whatever activity you are doing if you can do so safely.  If possible, physically remove yourself from the stressor, individual, situation, or group that you are facing.   IN CASES of ACTUAL, IMMEDIATE DANGER, Do what your body is telling you and "RUN AWAY!"  In most other scenarios, you can excuse yourself and seek a calm shelter or move outdoors.   Stopping or pausing keeps you from saying something that you may later regret.

Second, you need to take in more oxygen, so several minutes of deep, pursed lip breathing will help.  Slowly focus inhaling, filling your lungs and belly with air, and pushing it out through your lips.  The higher thought processes in your brain need oxygen and you will burn up a lot in the next few minutes.  If you have ever thought up the best comeback 20 minutes after an agitated encounter you can see why it is important to get that oxygen back into your brain as soon as possible.

Third, while your brain is coming off the "hijacking" response, you can begin to ponder what it is that you are getting so worked up about.  Is this event, person, or situation really worth your time, attention and the emotional response that you are giving it?  Is there something that you are overlooking (a misunderstanding, an honest error, disability, or a mistake ON YOUR PART?)  Some have called this step, "strengthening appreciation" for the perspective of the other party and try to see the situation as they may see it.  Again, this process is going to take at least a few minutes of quiet (step one) and focused deep breathing (step two) before any appreciation is possible. 

Fourth, seek out additional facts or information about the situation, person, or event that may make a rational, logical solution possible.  Too often we tend to assume the worst case scenario based only on the most cursory bits of information, including rumors, prejudices, and assumptions.  When you have regained control of your higher mental faculties, tried to see another perspective, and communicated by listening for additional information, you may be surprised to find that the seemingly "impossible" situation is not nearly as dire as you first perceived.  Again, some situations are truly emergent and require an immediate crisis response, but many office and family situations do not.     

Some tips for avoiding situations that can lead to emotional vulnerability.  A mnemonic that can help remind you is "HALT"

Do not allow yourself to get too HUNGRY - when you skip meals and work non-stop through the day your body is lacking the necessary fuel and nutrients to supply your brain so it can function at peak capacity.  You may be able to get by with caffeine and adrenaline in the short term, but you are setting yourself up for emotional reactions and long-term health problems.

Never allow yourself to be ruled by ANGER.  Just like the fictional Dr. Bruce Banner (Incredible Hulk), there is a certain amount of DANGER with unchecked anger.  While there are plenty of injustices and wrongs in the world to be concerned about, anger takes away your ability to function on the higher intellectual plane.  Try daily does of humor and laughter to mitigate the corrosive effects of "letting them get your goat."

Seek out the company of others to avoid LONELINESS.  We are social beings, so it is important to be able to rely on whatever social network you have available: family, friends, co-workers, clients, club members, congregants, or co-habitants.  If you feel that you are the only person with a position or problem, seek out the trusted counsel of others, when appropriate.  Why are online chat rooms so popular?  Primarily for the reason to seek information and share stories with like-minded individuals.

Finally, mental and emotional toughness comes easier when you are physically rested, so avoid being overly TIRED.  Again, if you can take a break, rejuvenate, or relax for a few minutes, you are much less likely to be subject to emotional hijacking.

By following these tips, with practice, one can become less likely to suffer adverse consequences from emotional responses to stressful situations.


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