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Emotional Hijacking: How the Emotional Brain Supersedes Reality

Anger. Rage. Fury. Wrath. Many people are angry with what is going on in the world. It doesn’t matter what side you are on, letting a situation hijack your thinking typically results in a poor outcome. The emotional brain puts a cloak around reality.

We all know someone who gets overly emotional, or even fears getting on a plane. The person tenses up, hands turn clammy, and they become generally irritable simply by driving to the airport. Although this person may be the pillar of common sense in other situations, when they get on a plane they morph into a completely different person; almost a Jekyll and Hyde response.

Why is this? In most cases it’s an issue of control. When getting on a plane, they have absolutely no control since control lies with the pilots. Because their control has been taken away, an irrational response of fear, irritability and even panic is exposed.

Emotional hijacking works exactly the same way. When someone is put into a stressful situation, their brain function is actually altered, and their reaction can quickly turn from reasonable and rational to primal and reactive. Emotional hijacking is a term that, I believe, anyone in the workforce needs to understand, be aware of, and act to keep under control.

What do you do when you realize you’re in the middle of an emotional hijack? Resolve the situation, or remain angry and unsettled? Try these three tips:

  1. Take a deep breath. Before saying a word, shooting a scathing look or worse, immediately take a breath to start the calming process to drive oxygen to your brain. Think of using this initial step when interacting on Social Media. Are you amazed how bitter people can be behind the cloak of their computer? I choose not to buy into their emotional hijacking.

  2. Change the setting. If at all possible, get up and move around, especially before hitting the send or post button. Do anything possible to change your environment. By changing your environment, it makes your brain reactivate some of the pathways it shut off to handle the emotional hijack. Secondly, it buys time to calm down and begin to think rationally. You do have a choice.

  3. Lead by example. Act in a manner that demonstrates the type of behavior you wish to see by those around you, whether face to face, or computer to computer. Ask more questions and make it about their concerns, not your opinion or view. Clarify, and have your solid evidence for your opinion.

Unintended consequence: Repetitive negative thinking is an important marker of dementia risk, according to a new study. At any age, this should be a concern.

Choose to manage emotional hijacking. It is possible, and as I have learned, takes some time to change this knee jerk emotion. Don’t let your emotional brain supersede reality. Life is difficult enough! I would love to hear your thoughts

Thanks for reading, Marsha Please let me know when we can tailor a presentation to lift your group to the next level. In person, or any virtual platform (I am a Certified Virtual Presenter.)

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