The workplace can be stressful. Fear for the future, cost pressures, layoffs, deadlines, do more with less, digital distribution, it’s a challenging world to live in and a challenging workplace to be a part of.
How we deal with this stress through mindfulness can make or break a team, an organisation and even ourselves.
Stress and its effect on our People
As a Leader we all have a responsibility to look after our people, clients and our own self. If we suffer from, and allow extreme emotional episodes to go unchecked then culture in the workplace will suffer. Emotions are contagious and these episodes will spread to others. This can and will have disastrous consequences at every level from productivity, client satisfaction, culture and turnover of vital staff. Practicing mindfulness will help.
The Hay Group has found that the leader has 50% to 70% influence over the climate of the team.
Freedman and Everett (2008) state that 70% of the top issues in the workplace are tied to leadership. So, the leader and how they manage their emotions have an enormous influence on the team.
Extreme emotional episodes can manifest itself in many ways, examples include at home, you find yourself shouting at the kids for being too loud. It could visit you at work when you lose the ability to speak rationally, maybe you experience feelings of intense stress or fear when talking in front of an audience. Maybe it’s worse than that and you go off the rails. Whatever it is needs to be managed so that you are not controlled by these events.Practicing mindfulness as a part of your personal development will help.
Fight or Flight
Extreme emotional episodes are linked directly to the Fight or flight Response. This is a natural response to danger that served our ancestors well in the past and still has a place in our lives today. This is the most basic survival instinct in the animal kingdom which ensures that the body is completely alert when danger occurs.
Imagine the scene, some hundred thousand years ago, one of our early ancestors is walking across the savanna when she becomes aware of a Lion stalking her.
Driven by her body’s metabolism, her survival instincts kick in. This results in a sharpening of her usual senses, resulting in her being extremely alert. She will either ‘fight or flight’. Fight the Lion or run away ‘Flight’ from the Lion.
Reason and logic play second fiddle here, the focus is on survival.
Fast forward to the present and nothing much has changed for our survival instinct and how it works.
When not managed correctly, situations when our Fight or Flight instinct kicks in can result in us not thinking rationally. Remember the instinct is telling us to either run from or to kill the Lion. In modern day terms, this could mean anything from sweaty palms and hot flushes to direct and unpleasant outpourings of anger to some perceived threat.
If you are in a Leadership position this will effect your team.
The Science – Amygdala Hijack
Just where does this Fight or Flight instinct come from? There is an ancient part of our brain that helped our ancestor survive when dealing with life-threatening situations like stalking Lions. The Human brain has evolved over thousands of years; however, this specific region of the brain is still very much active and can cause problems when not managed correctly.
This specific region of the brain is called the Amygdala. The part of the brain that processes fear, triggers anger, and motivates us to act. It alerts us to danger and activates the fight or flight response. This is called an Amygdala Hijack.
Under normal circumstances, you process information through your neocortex or “thinking brain” where all higher functioning – logic, problem solving, prioritising occurs. When you are under severe pressure, your brain may panic and activate the alarm system which hijacks some of your higher cognitive functions and puts you into survival and reactive mode. Intelligence dims, you cannot think clearly and signals are sent straight to the amygdala which lays deep in the “emotional brain.”
In the News – Amygdala Hijack
When these incidents happen on the world stage, it can have a huge impact.
Famous examples include;
In front of 28.8 million viewers in 213 countries Zinedine Zidane, a world-wide soccer role model, lost his self-control and head butted Marco Materazzi in the 2006 World Cup Soccer Final.
Zidane was kicked out of the game. France lost the World Cup to Italy and Zidane’s career ended in disgrace and wonderment “what was he thinking?” He wasn’t.
In the 1997 boxing match between Mike Tyson and Evander Hollyfield. Tyson,overwhelmed by emotions, bit Hollyfield’s ear. This resulted in temporary suspension of Tyson’s licence and a $3 million fine.What’s the reason for these brutal inhuman reactions? Yup, you got that right, the one and only… Amygdala Hijack.
Managing your brain in an Extreme Emotional Situation
The Amygdala Hijack itself only lasts for six seconds. These six seconds can feel like a lifetime to those experiencing it and those that are on the receiving end.
If you as a Leader experience the same extreme emotional response then there will be consequences.
Remember as a Leader we need to ensure that this extreme emotional episode does not get out of hand. You need an Amygdala Hijack action plan.
Mindfulness Action Plan
1. Stop – Stop if you have started to vent, just stop. If you are arguing, stop. Should you be cycling, driving etc then focus on that completely. But stop whatever extreme action you are doing.
2. Breathe – Take deep breaths, this will calm you down and remember to keep those breaths deep and long.
3. Pause – Pause before you do anything else, count to six slowly. Remember 6 seconds is the agreed length of time on how long you are being hijacked.
4. Label – Label the emotion. Try and figure out what the real problem is. Remember the Amygdala Hijack will reduce your IQ temporarily so what has tipped you over the edge may in fact be quite minor.
5. Identify – Identify a response. As you calm down you can focus on what your response really should be. Have a think about what your actions are doing to your business, your family or your friends.
6. Detox – Detox needs to happen after. Having an Amygdala Hijack can have an adverse effect on your health. Take more time to chill and relax. This will help your nervous system and the people who yuo interact with on a daily basis.
Use these Six Simple Mindfulness Steps to avoid an extreme emotional episode.
Actioning a Mindfulness Amygdala Hijack action plan the next time you have an extreme emotional episode can help you avoid the pitfalls of conflict that could be avoided.
This is a critical mindfulness piece in the puzzle when building a positive culture which drives healthy client satisfaction, a healthier bottom line and a healthier you.
Have you experienced an Amygdala Hijack and how did you cope?