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  • Writer's pictureDr. Vera Alves

What can you do to avoid being ‘emotionally hijacked’? Part 2

How often have you found yourself in the middle of an emotional reaction? When faced with strong emotions like anger, fear, anxiety, and even intense excitement, we risk having an amygdala hijack, “an intense emotional reaction that’s out of proportion to the circumstance.”[1] When emotions make us feel overwhelmed, we can quickly lose control and display behaviors that do not reflect our best version. This is particularly impactful when the person who loses their mind is our leader.

Leaders are very carefully and closely watched. Employees “can smell their emotions a mile away.” When leaders are impatient, frustrated, or fearful of failure, their teams begin to feel the same way because emotions are contagious.[2] In times of crisis, when stress levels can get really high, leaders need the total capacity of their brains to analyze the best possible options, question exciting perspectives, and come up with the appropriate course of action.[3] They have to keep their cool to reassure employees, customers, and business partners while maintaining the capacity to listen and take existing concerns seriously.[3] In the final installment of this two-part series, I will discuss possible ways to act with more emotional intelligence in high-stress situations, preventing your amygdala from affecting your ability to access your rational capacities.

Tips to prevent amygdala hijack for leaders

Different signs indicate that you are about to have an amygdala hijack. Some common signs are shaking, increased blood pressure, racing heart, sweaty palms, clammy skin, goosebumps, fast breathing, tense muscles, and nausea. How can you mitigate such intense and sudden emotional reactions at the workplace? Here are some tips that will help you with emotional self-management:

  • Do the prep. The better prepared for the situation, the more you will be able to be your best self at the moment.[4] Gather data, give yourself time to think things over, look for different points of view before making up your mind, and get organized.

  • Acknowledge your emotions. Understanding why feelings occur and how such emotions and behaviors impact your performance is vital for taking control of the situation. Developing self-awareness is one of the most critical skills for leaders, and it is essential to managing our emotions to make rational decisions.

  • Get to the balcony[4]: When we are too immersed in a situation, we tend to focus on part of the problem and fail to understand the whole. Try to see the big picture, the whole forest, instead of just the trees.

  • Take time-outs: Are you feeling completely out of control? Excuse yourself from the situation and find a quiet place to get a hold of your emotions. When facing too much pressure, step outside, take deep breaths, and give yourself some time to process all the information.

  • Remember to breathe. We often forget to breathe in high-stakes conversations or situations. Breathing is highly effective in reducing stress.[5] According to a recent HBR article[5], different emotions are associated with varying forms of breathing. For example, when we are happy, our breathing patterns will be regular, deep, and slow. On the other hand, breathing will be short, irregular, fast, and shallow when we feel anxious. This means that “when you follow breathing patterns associated with different emotions, you’ll actually begin to feel those corresponding emotions.”[5]

  • Listen: Develop your listening skills to manage to focus on understanding rather than on responding. Avoid taking comments personally, but rather pay attention to what is said and unsaid.

Avoiding emotional responses that can leave you feeling guilty and regretful later is very important, particularly for leaders. Understanding the causes of ‘an amygdala hijack’ and becoming acquainted with some tips to overcome emotional instability at the workplace will help you better navigate stressful situations.

Leader Essentials Group can help your management team navigate the challenges of dealing with stressful situations through the development of Emotional Intelligence competencies. Email us at to schedule a meeting and learn more about how we can partner with you to develop and execute strategic leadership outcomes for your organization!

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Vera Alves is the Chief Consulting Officer at Leader Essentials Group, with extensive experience in leadership development and business management. With over 12 years of experience as a C-suite executive, Vera is highly skilled in leadership, strategic planning, operations management, organizational behavior, and change management. She possesses highly developed communication, training, and linguistic skills reflective of a very strong and charismatic leadership style.

_________________________________________________________________________ [1] Pedersen, T. (2021). Amygdala hijack: What it is and how to prevent it. Retrieved 05/19/2022, Amygdala Hijack: What It Is and How to Prevent It | Psych Central [2] Boyatzis, R., Boyatzis, R. E., & McKee, A. (2005). Resonant leadership: Renewing yourself and connecting with others through mindfulness, hope, and compassion. Harvard Business Press. [3] Birk, M. (2020). Why leaders need meditation now more than ever. Harvard Business Review. [4] Bilimoria, D. (2016). Introduction to Emotional Intelligence. Weatherhead School of Management at Case Western Reserve University. [5] Seppälä, E., Bradley, C., Goldstein, M. R. (2020). Research: Why Breathing Is So Effective at Reducing Stress. Harvard Business Review.

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