Amygdala Hijack: What it is and How to Stop It 

 August 16, 2022

By  Carlos Ayala

Do you sometimes feel like you're not in control of your own thoughts and emotions? If so, you may have experienced an amygdala hijack. This is a phenomenon that can cause intense reactions to certain stimuli, often leading to poor decision-making. In this blog post, we will discuss what amygdala hijacking is, and how you can prevent it from happening. We'll also provide some tips for dealing with amygdala hijacks when they do occur.


Amygdala hijack was coined by Daniel Goleman in his 1996 book, Emotional Intelligence. The term refers to the limbic system's (which includes the amygdala) override of the rational brain during moments of fear or in a stressful situation. When this happens, our emotional brain is in control.

The amygdala is a small, almond-shaped structure in the brain that is responsible for processing emotions. When we experience something that triggers a strong emotional response, such as aggression or fear, the amygdala sends out a signal that activates the sympathetic nervous system.

This fight or flight response causes the adrenal glands to release the hormones adrenaline and cortisol, which prepares our body to respond to a perceived threat. In some cases, this response can be helpful; it can give us the extra energy and focus we need to deal with a difficult situation. However, when the response is out of proportion to the actual threat, it can have a negative impact on our health. This phenomenon is known as "amygdala hijacking."

Amygdala hijack occurs in response to a variety of triggers, including real or perceived threats. For some people, the sight of blood or needles can trigger a strong emotional reaction. For others, it may be something as innocuous as hearing someone raise their voice. In some cases, the trigger may be completely unrelated to the current situation; for example, someone who was bullied as a child may have an amygdala hijacking response to someone who is simply assertive. Regardless of the trigger, the result is always the same: an intense emotional reaction that can lead to anxiety, fear, or even panic.

When the individual continues to experience stressful situations consistently and over a long period, our emotional reactions can alter other parts of the human brain and body, including the prefrontal cortex, and immune system. This can lead to long-term health problems such as anxiety, depression, panic disorder, and chronic stress.

It's important to note that not everyone experiences amygdala hijack in the same way. Some people may only have a mild reaction, while others may have a more severe reaction that impairs the individual to respond rationally.

While amygdala hijacking can be extremely distressing in the moment, it is important to remember that it is not dangerous and does not indicate a mental health disorder. With a goal, awareness, and cognitive behavioral therapy, people who experience amygdala hijacking can learn to manage their own emotions and prevent them from getting out of control.

Amygdala hijack and the brain

The amygdala is located in the medial temporal lobe of the brain, just behind the eyes. When you're happy, sad, angry, afraid, or disgusted, this area is in charge of storing and processing emotions as well as forming memories of emotional events.

The amygdala is part of the limbic system, which also includes the hippocampus, hypothalamus, and limbic cortex.

  • The hippocampus is responsible for retrieving and forming new memories and linking them to existing ones. The hypothalamus regulates the autonomic nervous system, which controls things like heart rate and blood pressure.
  • The hypothalamus also controls our emotional responses by regulating the endocrine system, stress hormones, body temperature, and sexual response.
  • The limbic cortex is composed of the cingulate gyrus and the parahippocampal gyrus. Together, they regulate our emotional responses expressed through gesture, posture, and movement.
  • The amygdala is the core of a neural system that processes fearful and threatening stimuli that are perceived by the eyes.

As you can see, the limbic system controls our emotions of fear, love, anger, and happiness. When amygdala hijack occurs, all of these components work together to override our logical intelligence and our emotional intelligence takes control.

When we experience something that triggers a strong emotional reaction, the amygdala sends out a signal to the hippocampus to activate the sympathetic nervous system without input from the prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for higher-level thinking. This fight-or-flight response causes a surge of adrenaline and cortisol, which prepares our body to respond to a perceived threat.

Unfortunately, when the emotional response is so intense or continually happens over a long period, the person’s autonomic nervous system gets stuck in fight-or-flight response mode, causing the brain to produce more stress hormones that only promote more anxiety on autopilot.

Risk factors that can worsen amygdala hijack

Greater amygdala activation and negative emotional reaction can result if the person has chronic stress, posttraumatic stress disorder, or any other anxiety disorders that trigger the fight or fight response.

Real-life amygdala hijack examples

Every day, we are constantly faced with amygdala triggers, some examples include:

- Public speaking

This starts even before you get on stage. Just thinking about speaking in front of a large group of people can trigger your amygdala and send you into fight-or-flight mode. Your heart races, your palms start to sweat, and you might even feel like you're going to faint or vomit. You might also start to feel an intense urge to run away.

- Monday morning traffic

Another example could be a driver who gets road rage in traffic. They might cut you off, honk their horn, or make an obscene gesture. Your stress response could be to scream, honk your horn, or make an obscene gesture back. Your heart rate speeds up, your palms start to sweat, and you might feel an intense urge to get away from the situation. If these intense emotions continue after the incident, headache, stomachache, and even chest pain can result.

- Confrontation with your boss

It's Friday morning and you're having your weekly one-on-one meeting with your boss, who had a very long week. Hi is on the edge, and disagrees with a decision you made. The discussion quickly escalates into a heated argument. Your boss is yelling and you feel like you're going to cry or vomit. Your heart races, your palms start to sweat, and you have the urge to run away or hide under a desk.

Although these are mild or moderate threats, in the moment, they feel incredibly intense and our body reacts accordingly. At that moment, your emotional intelligence takes control and your prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for higher-level thinking, decision making, and impulse control, shuts down. This is why people often say or do things they later regret when they're experiencing an amygdala hijack.

Once the threat is over, the hypothalamus activates the parasympathetic nervous system to return the body to a state of calm. Your heart rate slows, your blood pressure returns to normal, and your brain starts to produce chemicals so you start to feel relaxed again.

How to prevent amygdala hijack?

An amygdala hijack is a memorized automatic reaction that happens so quickly, that we're not even aware it's happening. In order to prevent this emotional intelligence from taking control, we need to know ourselves better, what triggers our emotions, and have a plan to deal with them.

4 Pillars to stop amygdala hijack

The objective of the four pillars is to help you take control of your emotions before they trigger the fight or flight response.

1. Knowledge Is Power

But knowledge about yourself, your mind, and your body is self-empowerment.

The first step toward overcoming amygdala hijack is to learn more about how your brain and body react to strong emotions and what you can do to help them return to a state of balance. The moment a person is experiencing severe anxiety, or emotional outbursts, the body's chemical response triggers the fight-or-flight response.

The second step is to learn about mental health. Mental health is essential to our overall wellbeing. It is a state of mind in which one feels positive and able to cope with the challenges of life. Mental health includes our ability to feel, think and respond (instead of reacting). It also influences how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices. A person with good mental health has a sense of purpose, feels loved and valued, has self-esteem and confidence, and can form supportive relationships.

This part aims to increase your self-awareness so you can recognize the triggers. This is the first step toward self-regulation.

2. Affect the physiology of your body

There are several things you can do to bring your body and brain into balance that are scientifically proven to work, including:

  • Breathing exercises: Proper deep breathing helps to activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for the “rest and digest” response. This can help to lower heart rate and blood pressure and promote relaxation.
  • Raise your Gaba levels: Gaba is a neurotransmitter that helps to inhibit the fight-or-flight response. Gaba Calming Support supplement will help you turn off the anxious thoughts.
  • Brainwave entrainment and Meditation: When you meditate, you help to slow down the brainwaves and bring them into a state of alpha waves. Alpha waves are associated with relaxation and healing. This process is accelerated by using brainwave entrainment, which is a method of using sound waves to slow down neural activity.
  • Visualization: Positive emotions and visualizing yourself in a safe place can help to lower anxiety levels and further promote relaxation. This is a powerful tool because your brain doesn't know the difference between what is real and what is imagined. Dr. Daniel Amen's research with SPECT scan proves this with real brain images. Dr. Amen discovered that when an individual does meditation, the blood flow to the brain increases. But what's more interesting, is that negative or positive thoughts can also affect the blood flow to the brain and your emotional state.
  • Increase blood flow, and oxygen intake: Every morning, drink 24 oz of water and walk 20 minutes like you are late for work to increase blood flow and oxygen to the brain. When you keep practicing this for two weeks, you'll be more optimistic and have a better day.

3. Kill the ANTs - Automatic Negative Thoughts

Kill the ANTs is a very effective Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Our brains get infested by daily negative thoughts that rob our joy and steal our happiness. Every time you have a thought, your brain releases chemicals to make your body feel the way you think and vice versa. For this reason, it is very important to be aware of what you are thinking.

There are many other things you can do to help your body and brain overcome amygdala hijack. However, these stress management techniques are some of the most effective, natural, and evidence-based methods that promote a positive emotional response while stopping the fight or flight response.

4. Team up with a Brain Health Professional Coach

It is important to seek professional help if you are struggling to cope on your own. A mental health professional coach can provide support and guidance as you work to control your emotional brain.

Your coach can help you to understand your thoughts and emotions, and develop a healthy stress management plan. In addition, your coach can provide support and accountability as you work to make lifestyle changes.

Our Amen Clinics Certified professionals can help you with that. We look at amygdala hijack from a holistic perspective, taking into account your diet, exercise, nutritional deficiencies, stress levels, and negative habits.

When you follow our proven and time-tested methodology the changes become permanent. You can finally be free and move on with your life feeling energetic, productive, and confident, knowing that you have control over your mind and body.

The first step is always the hardest, but it is also the most important. Taking action is a sign of strength and courage. It shows that you are committed to taking control of your life and your future. So, take the first step today and book your free consultation.

To learn more about our approach to brain health, please contact us today. We offer a free 30-minute consultation to discuss how we can help you thrive. Schedule a call now!

I trust you found this information helpful. We are God's highest form of creation, we are spiritual beings living in a physical body. With the right mindset, tools, and proper support, you can TRULY unlock your full potential.

Thank you for reading! If you have any questions or would like to share your own experience, please leave a comment below. Take care!

If you found this article valuable, please share it with your friends and family. Knowledge is power!

Thanks for reading!

Frequently Asked Questions

How long does an amygdala hijack last?

The chemicals released from the amygdala hijacking take between three and six minutes to disperse fully. This can last for a few minutes to a few hours, depending on the intensity of the event. Stress management techniques can help you relax and move away from negative emotions within minutes or even seconds when used frequently.

Please note: This article is for informational purposes only and should not be used as medical advice to treat social anxiety disorder, major depressive disorder or any mental health disorder. If you have any questions or concerns about your health, please speak with a doctor or other healthcare professional. Always consult with a healthcare professional before starting any mental health treatment.

related posts:

{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}

Carlos Ayala

Follow me here

About the Author

As a human potential coach and Certified Brain Health Professional by the Amen Clinics, Carlos Ayala knows what it takes to achieve success. He helps people break through their limitations and achieve amazing things while optimizing brain health for a happier life. He has been personally mentored by Bob Proctor, one of the most renowned personal development coaches in the world.

Born with a passion for helping others reach their full potential, Carlos has spent his life exploring all that is possible. He has worked with individuals from all walks of life and has helped them achieve goals that once seemed impossible.

Get in touch