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Amygdala & mental health

Have you ever lost control of your emotions and done something you subsequently regretted?

If you answered yes, your amygdala has most likely taken over your mind.

Amygdala & body stress response

The thalamus, which serves as your brain's relay station, receives sensory information when you see, hear, touch, or taste anything. Subsequently, the information is relayed to the neocortex (the "thinking brain"). The amygdala (the "emotional brain") receives it and creates the appropriate emotional reaction.

When confronted with a potentially dangerous scenario, the thalamus delivers sensory data to both the amygdala and the neocortex. When the amygdala detects a threat, it makes a split-second decision to trigger the fight-or-flight response before the neocortex can intervene.

The stress hormones epinephrine (also known as adrenaline) and cortisol are released as a result of this chain of events.

These hormones increase your heart rate, raise your blood pressure, and improve your energy levels, among other things, to prepare your body for flight or fight.

Chronic stress and certain mental health problems can interfere with the functioning of the brain's fear circuitry, increasing the risk of amygdala hijacking.

People with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), for example, have a higher level of amygdala activation, which results in heightened emotional reactions such as dread and anxiety.

Other anxiety disorders, such as social anxiety disorder (SAD) and panic disorder, might cause the amygdala to respond more strongly.

Chronic stress can cause an overactive fear and anxiety circuit in your brain, which inhibits the functioning of other parts of the brain that aid with fear inhibition, such as the hippocampus and medial prefrontal cortex, even if you don't have a diagnosis of PTSD or anxiety disorder.

All of this implies that prolonged stress may lead to more frequent amygdala hijacks and even short-term memory issues, which is why it's critical to concentrate on understanding and controlling your emotional reactions. Preventative work is one approach to do this.

Hijack the amygdala

How can you stop an amygdala hijack?

When you notice yourself reacting in this way again, acknowledge it and attempt to restore control. Remind yourself that this is a natural reaction, but not the most reasonable.

You can engage your frontal cortex once you've calmed down or are less anxious. Start by considering what triggered the response and how you felt. Then think about what kinds of replies you can and should have. These will be more reasoned and meaningful reactions. Give yourself extra time if you're still feeling emotional.

When you're in the throes of a fight-or-flight response, some coping strategies and apps can help you to restore control.

f your feelings overwhelmed by your feelings and you need imediate help, helplines can help you to debrief.

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