The economic and political crisis added to the Covid-19 pandemic resulted in 18.6 million cases of anxiety in Brazil, according to the WHO (World Health Organization). Also according to the organization, we are the country with the most cases on the planet. A recurring symptom is the so-called emotional hijacking, a moment in which the person is taken by emotion and an exaggerated reaction to the event occurs, often leaving no memory of what happened.
There are several symptoms experienced during an emotional hijacking episode, as explained by the psychologist Vanessa Gebrim, specialist in Clinical Psychology at PUC-SP. “Loss of control, dominance of emotion over reason, anger, physical symptoms such as sweating, rapid heartbeat, loss of lucidity, aggression and recklessness in the face of a given situation, these are the symptoms most felt during emotional kidnapping”, he explains.
Emotional kidnapping does not have a date and time to occur, but it usually happens in moments of extreme emotions. The result is often regret after anxiety attacks. “In many situations, emotional hijacking can result in inappropriate behavior, which individuals may later regret. Examples of situations involving tantrums that can result in aggression or murder, where the person acts based on an intense impulse of anger, without reflecting or thinking about the consequences of their actions at the time of action. Nonetheless, emotional hijacking is not only associated with situations with a strong negative emotional charge, such as anger, but also with positive situationsas in an uncontrolled burst of laughter after hearing a funny joke”, says Vanessa.
How to identify and avoid emotional hijacking
1. Try to calm down: in times of stress, it can be difficult to identify a moment of crisis. However, when identified, there are some ways to avoid emotional hijacking. “When you find yourself on the verge of losing control, step away from the situation for a few moments, even if only in thought. Taking a deep breath, remembering a situation that brings you pleasant memories or listening to music are excellent strategies to calm down. Another factor is to identify the situation, people or facts that disturb you and lead you to act irrationally”, he advises.
2. Prevent yourself: it is possible to prevent other episodes from occurring in the future, in order to avoid problems due to emotional hijacking. “When the person manages to identify what makes them act irrationally, then it is important to pay attention to the changes in their mind and body, since the body is the Theater of Emotions. While still conscious, name the emotion you are feeling, for example: ‘I’m outraged’, ‘I’m anxious’ or ‘I’m angry’. Just talking about what you’re feeling shifts the activity from the emotional mind to the rational mind, and thus you will decrease its intensity. This allows you to have self-control over what you are feeling”, understands the psychologist.
3. Breathe: keeping calm is essential, emotional kidnappings happen in moments of great euphoria. Therefore, it is important, when this occurs, to seek tranquility. “Breathe deeply, this will prevent your emotional mind from taking over. Count to 6. In common sense it is very common to hear ‘Count to 10 so you don’t explode’. However, modern neuroscience teaches that counting to 6 (equivalent to 6 seconds) is enough to regain self-control. Waiting for just a few seconds before acting causes the brain chemicals that cause emotional hijacking to dissipate,” he says.
4. Control your emotions: another essential factor is to prevent extreme emotions from occurring and, if they do occur, seek to control them. “When negative and strong emotions are triggered, the first impulse is to do something, acting mechanically. Usually, resuming the old forms of action ingrained in us”, warns the expert.
5. Think twice: It is in times of stress that we tend to act on impulse, which can have unintended consequences. “So question yourself before you act. Questioning is the wisest way to get answers. Ask yourself something smart enough like, ‘What can I do to get back in control?’, ‘What would be a smart response in this context? or ‘What would a sensible and intelligent person do in such a case?’ After that, act”, he concludes.
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