Have you heard of the amygdala hijack? It’s a term first used by Daniel Goleman – in his book, Emotional Intelligence. Basically, the amygdala hijack is where our emotions overcome us, and our amygdala (responsible for saving us in times of trouble) kicks into over drive. Logic goes out the window, and we are left with fight, flight, or freeze.
I feel like I live in a house of repeated hijacking, if I’m being honest. As we walk an unclear path, seeking mental health, healing, and restoration for our son, I’m learning things I don’t always know how to prevent, stop, or slow down. Our amygdalas are on overdrive around here.
I’m learning to pause when situations get particularly testy around here, and I’m learning to put my hand up to ask for that moment I need. Then, in my pause, I try to carefully consider everything that has happened and really “close the lid” so that my frontal lobe is engaged and I’m not part of the problem with my own fight, flight, or freeze reaction.
I’m trying to learn to respond instead of react. So I pause. Because let’s face it, 60-120 seconds – or even twice that, isn’t going to affect all that much in my day, but it has great potential for putting an end to the hijack in that moment.
The trouble I’m finding with the mental health journey, like so many of our medical journeys, is that everything is compartmentalized. So the amygdala hijack is only considered a mental health thing. They don’t make a physical health connection. They don’t make a spiritual health connection.
Well if your amygdala is on overdrive, so is your adrenaline, and the systems that produce and circulate adrenaline, too. So from a physical health stand point, we need to find a way to dump excess energy, restore depleted resources, and feed the cells that participate in resource management.
Because depletion causes desperation, and over exposure to adrenaline causes damage to the body. We have to heal the body, too. Simultaneously. Not instead of or in place of, but while we are working with the brain to help a child regulate.
Then there is the spiritual health connection. We read in the bible about taking every thought captive, and I think it is so important to invite God in to this battle of the mind. Who knows better how our minds are supposed to work than the Creator Himself? And He gave His life for ours, of course He wants to help us overcome the struggles we have in our thinking. Also, I can’t help but think that as we learn to more fully trust and depend on God, the less our fight, flight, or freeze, reactions will fire off at will. When we know who we are and we know whose we are, we will know we don’t have to default to fight, flight, or freeze.
Yet, in the mental health world, we seem to get a lot of information about things – such as the amygdala hijack – and only a little information about how to recognize it, slow it down or stop it, or how to recover from it after it’s happened. No nutrition counseling beyond avoiding red dye and sugar. No spiritual connections that help us recognize how God is working and moving through us even when we are struggling.
I don’t think it would be wise to only focus on the physical side, or even only focus on the spiritual side. I think we have to look at all three angles and really work for holistic care, treatment, healing, and recovery.
Yet, as a care provider for someone facing severe mental health struggles, I feel like I’m having to make this up as I go, as I get fractured pieces of information and try to fit them into the puzzle that makes this bridge in our journey.
So I try to remember to pause. I don’t remember every single time. Sometimes I recognize just after I blow it that I was in a full-blown hi jack and I didn’t get my amygdala back on board. Those moments are hard. I have to ask my kids for grace and forgiveness and I have to ask God the same. I have to humbly admit that a year ago, I didn’t even know what an amygdala hijack was, or how it affected our actions and reactions.
One day, one moment, one lesson at a time, we are pressing forward and inviting God to come renew our minds, refresh our hope, strengthen us, and give us what we need for today.
Until next time,