When the amygdala goes into hijack mode, it stirs strong emotions, like fear, revulsion, or overwhelm. While it is attempting to steer us safely away from danger and toward safety, it also seizes power from another important brain structure, the middle prefrontal cortex. This higher brain structure enables our capacity to create a nuanced response, thus, allowing us to orchestrate thoughts and behaviors based on our goals. Interestingly, neuroscience studies confirm the ability of mindfulness practice to change the structure of the amygdala and middle prefrontal cortex.
A Massachusetts General study showed that mindfulness practice stimulates proteins that strengthen and thicken the middle prefrontal cortex. In a follow-up study, it was shown that the density of the amygdala decreased after 8-weeks of mindfulness meditation training. With a thicker middle prefrontal cortex and a smaller amygdala, we can not only pause, but we can think of the larger social good and enact a behavior that is better for everyone.
Stop, Look, Go
Connected EC Mind/Body coach Chad Herst recommends a simple, three-step formula created by Brother David Steindl-Rast, a Benedictine monk known for interfaith dialogue and his work on the interaction between spirituality and science. Brother David came up with this three-part “Recipe for Grateful Living: Stop! Look! Go!"
While this model is a gratefulness practice, it works equally as a practice for building the mindfulness muscle throughout the working day. If practiced consistently, it allows us to create a space between what happens to us and how we respond so that our amygdala hijack doesn’t determine our outcome, but, instead, our middle prefrontal cortex does.
To learn more about how to get out of amygdala hijack, check out Chad's full article on Stop, Look, Go.