This is a collaborative post.
The amygdala is a part of the brain that modulates emotions. It’s part of the limbic system, also known as the “emotional brain.” It also regulates emotional states and responses, such as anger, fear, stress, and pleasure.
Because it modulates the fear response, an overactive amygdala is greatly affected by your mental health. There might even be times when you may not be able to control your emotions.
What’s The Amygdala?
Consider the amygdala as the brain’s built-in alarm system. It’s the command center responsible for determining your response to a threat or alarming situation.
Thanks to the amygdala, you may be protected from potentially painful situations as it activates your body’s “fight or flight” response system. It’s often involuntary, and the reflex action can help you react quickly to immediate threats or physical danger.
Scanning your environment is part of the amygdala’s role.
But this regular ‘scan’ isn’t limited to just your external environment. It can also scan your internal environment, such as your emotions. So, when the amygdala detects negative emotions, it can also activate the fight or flight response.
The Relationship Between Mental Health And The Amygdala
Studies have shown that mental health may affect your amygdala.
For example, people with PTSD (posttraumatic stress disorder) can have greater amygdala activation or a larger amygdala than control subjects in studies.
Greater amygdala activity is detected if these patients with PTSD were exposed to combat sounds, combat scripts and images, or trauma-relevant words.
But aside from combat-related words, sounds, or imagery, researchers discovered that these patients with PTSD also reacted to other fear stimuli, including scary faces unrelated to battle. It led researchers to conclude that PTSD and chronic stress can greatly affect the amygdala.
The amygdala might just be a small part of your emotional brain, but it can be powerful and might lead to the so-called “amygdala hijack.” In this kind of situation, the amygdala ‘hijacks’ other brain processes and controls your emotions.
It can lead to an intense emotional response that might be out of proportion in a given situation. Some might consider it as a mental breakdown.
But the main culprit is actually the amygdala. Because it ‘hijacked’ other parts of your brain, it greatly affects your ability to think clearly using your frontal lobe. You’re not in control of your responses.
It can be a big problem for you if the situation happens in response to something that isn’t actually a real threat. Some people might even become aggressive or violent due to amygdala hijacking.
Improving Your Mental Health & Quieting Your Amygdala
An amygdala hijack can be overwhelming, but you can find ways to improve your mental health and emotional quotient.
These methods can help quiet your amygdala.
Mindfulness is your ability to stay aware of what you’re doing.
By being fully aware of your situation, you can determine what triggers your amygdala hijack. It can help you walk away from the potentially dangerous situation and not feel overwhelmed by what’s going on.
Regular mindfulness meditation has the following benefits:
- It can improve your ability to understand your emotions.
- It can help you recognize emotions in others.
- It can strengthen your ability to control your emotions.
It might also be a good idea to note what might trigger strong emotions, especially those that make you feel furious or fearful.
Stress can be a big factor in causing amygdala hijack. People may have varied ways of dealing with stress, but you can find what works for you best.
The following are some options for you to try:
- Journaling or writing
- Finding a new hobby
Deep belly breathing and other breathing exercises can help you focus your body’s energy to respond to a trigger peacefully.
It can help you retain control of your amygdala.
Seek Professional Help
You might consider seeking professional help if you are regularly experiencing stress and anxiety that could lead to an overactive amygdala.
An amygdala hijack can be a frightening experience because you lose your sense of control. It might even make you feel guilty or regretful afterward.
By trying to improve your mental health, you can also help yourself avoid an amygdala hijack.
But don’t be too hard on yourself. It might take time before you get to learn how to control yourself. After all, the amygdala is a powerful command center in your brain.
Just continue practicing meditation, deep breathing, mindfulness, and the other methods. You might soon get the hang of it.