Emotional stress and emotional hijacking have become a global epidemic and because a lot of people are experiencing it, we think it's normal. When we are overwhelmed with life, it is easy to get caught up in our feelings and habitual cycles of emotional reactivity, negative thinking and self-doubt, yet, as a result, many of us are making ourselves chronically sick; emotionally, mentally and physically.
Fortunately, just as the brain and nervous system have been habitually sensitized with reactive tendencies, it can be rewired for emotional independence where we regain regulatory functions to respond to challenging situations, events or people in healthy and mindful ways.
Most of us however, are not aware of the term "emotional hijacking" and what I get asked frequently by my coaching clients is:
“Am I going crazy or “I’m losing my mind”.
Here is the hard truth: A lot of us learned at a very young age, a destructive pattern of working through our thoughts, feelings, emotions, and self-limiting beliefs. This has been creating a lot of emotional stress and suffering most of our lives.
Most of us want the same things: peace, happiness and love, however these emotions seem elusive, and we find ourselves on an emotional roller coaster, day in and day out.
Unfortunately, we have a tendency to blame external events/people for the source of our stress without taking full accountability for how we feel in every moment.
How many of us find ourselves caught in our feelings and reacting to people or events or blaming external situations for the source of our stress such as:
work, deadlines, meetings and goals
disease and illness
transitions and change
conflicts and challenges
performance pressures and competition
expectations and failures
Here is a fact: Situations, people, setbacks, failures, and obstacles, no matter how hard they get, do not cause our emotional stress. Our own thinking and perceptions about them do in every situation.
Yet, we normalize stress by constantly saying to ourselves:
I had a major argument today with my husband, obviously I will feel stressed.
My child is not doing well in school, obviously I am frustrated.
My husband just lost his job, obviously I'm worried.
My boss yelled at me, obviously I will be angry.
The Inconvenience of Life Pressures
Yes, I do believe that many of us feel inconvenienced by life pressures, interruptions, and annoyances. Understandably, we want everything to go smoothly, happily and as planned. When chaos arises, many of us feel a level of fear, anxiety, uncertainty, frustration, and low tolerance which creates emotional pain-distress.
Usually this happens when we are in a situation where we don't feel we can manage or control what's happening, right?
Our thoughts create emotional stress, negative energies of fear, apprehension and worry. Our daily tasks become harder to handle and stress begins to trickle into every aspect of our life- money, career, health, relationships, personal well-being.
Let’s be honest, stress happens when either something is happening that we don’t want to happen, or something is not happening the way we want it to happen. Why is this true?
We have a false sense of control and fear change.
We fear getting out of our comfort zone.
We try to reject or escape change.
We are creatures of habit.
Our thoughts quickly jump to "oh no this is not good" or "why is this happening to me".
As a result, our immediate thoughts are what creates a flood of feelings/emotions in the body and brain.
Now, let’s take a closer look at Emotional Hijacking!
Emotional stress is a psychological and physiological event that happens in the mind, body and emotional body as a result of our beliefs and perceptions about stressors. Stressors are what we believe to be the cause of our stress and our underlying beliefs are the mediator between our thoughts/feelings and our emotional reactions, responses, behaviors and actions.
Emotional reactions often related to the stress/trauma response are flight, fight, freeze or fawn.
Emotional hijacking occurs when emotional processing centers of the brain perceives a real or imagined threat and takes temporary control over the higher brain centers. Essentially during the stress response, our brains become literally broken! Our brains and nervous systems have been chronically programmed with self-limiting beliefs, fear-based perceptions and habitual reactivity, lending to an epidemic of emotional dependency.
Emotional hijacking is largely an involuntary reaction to an emotional trigger, whether that is a person, an event or a circumstance. It's a primitive-conditioned response which is protective in nature when a real physical danger or threat is present (being chased by a bear) yet is unwarranted when the perceived threat is based on our own habitual thinking, self-limiting beliefs, traumas, and patterned reactions. Emotional reactions are only useful when there is a real physical threat involved.
Emotional dependency is a state where emotional regulation is out of balance, and we become hijacked by our emotions and emotionally react in unhealthy ways and at inappropriate times.
We can get caught in this cycle of thought, feelings and fear because we are not aware or have not learned:
how the body and brain are triggered in response to perceived threats through a process of emotional hijacking
the role that thoughts and self-limiting beliefs play on our emotions in creating this response
how to manage and regulate our thoughts and emotions in healthy ways
The key factor to understand is that the brain does not know the difference between a real and imagined threat.
Simply stated, our EMOTIONAL REACTIONS are formed from our conditioned belief SYSTEMS which most of us are unaware are at the root of our emotional stress, suffering and pain.
Hence, anger, anxiety, fear, worry, stress etc.. all have similar roots:
They are survival based and how we are perceiving situations to protect ourselves and our ego
They result from how we have been CONDITIONED to think about ourselves, relationships, success, personal power, happiness, money, career, life challenges etc...
They often occur without any reflective thought or analysis of the situation, which can lead to emotional decisions that are not productive or that are not based on truth/evidence.
When pressure exceeds one's resilience or capacity to adapt it becomes emotional pain/stress, anxiety, depression etc...
It is this emotional pain that takes a toll on one's physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health.
Fear-based thinking and negativity bias keeps us stuck in unhealthy habitual patterns.
We have to train our brain to not recognize everything as a threat!
Emotional Independence = Response
It is possible to retrain the brain and build Emotional Independence by working through our Conditioned Beliefs, Emotional Pain and Triggers. It is possible to learn how to respond in productive and healthy ways in any given situation.
This first involves overcoming the FEAR of CHANGE as becoming more aware and acknowledging deep rooted emotional pain and triggers can be a scary process.
Simple MINDFULNESS METHODS such as the STOPP method and meditation may help you reset your nervous system, better manage and regulate your emotions in a nonjudgmental and compassionate manner and set you on the road of Emotional Independence and inner healing.
Emotional Independence therefore is FREEDOM and LIBERATION from being controlled by fear and your feelings. It involves taking the time to STOPP, think and reflect on the facts of a situation before taking any sort of action.
Here are 3 practical ways to begin regaining your emotional independence and overcome Emotional Hijacking:
1. STOPP Method:
The STOPP method is a thoughtful, intentional response to a stimulus that occurs after evaluating the situation and considering the outcomes of one's actions or behaviors.
S-Stop and Pause before you respond. The brain's emotional processing centers act quicker than the reasoning centers.
T-Take a deep breath. Deep breathing activates the relaxation response
O-Observe thoughts, what are you reacting to? What do you feel in your body? simply noticing or labeling "the feeling" as just a fleeting emotion that will pass and that we don't need to try and change it.
P-Proceed with Solutions. What is another way of looking at or responding to this situation? Cool down-take a walk, stretch, exercise
P-Practice and reflect on what works. Talk it over, journal, reframe as a learning experience!
2. Challenge Conditioned Belief Patterns
Most of our rooted beliefs come from our childhood, life experiences, societal expectations/rules and familial patterns. Identify what you believe and where your beliefs surrounding challenges, relationships, success, career, transitions, health, personal power etc... came from. Then, identify which beliefs work for you and which you would like to change. The storyline of your life is rooted in your beliefs. It is a narrative that continues to play out with old thought patterns, habits and perspectives, in which case they can be changed.
3. Be Kind to Your Mind and Meditate
Mindfulness meditation is a simple tool that may help you bring conscious awareness to your thoughts and emotions without judgement and with self-compassion. Here are some facts:
You can practice mindfulness anywhere, anytime
Mindfulness meditation is a good way to formally train our attention, like going to the gym to build strength.
Meditation develops our ability to be aware and strengthen emotional regulation.
When we're aware and free from habits of conditioned thought patterns and emotional reactivity, we're able to respond to challenges and situations more skillfully with more joy, happiness and inner-peace!