Have you ever felt overwhelmed, unable to think straight, or panicked? What about a surge of adrenaline, a pit in your stomach, or frustration? Have you ever felt this way at work?
There is one thing our brain does that can cause all these problems at work and it doesn’t take much to be triggered. Here are two different stories that demonstrate how this happens.
The Tale of Two People
It’s a cold winter’s day. The caveman trudges through a light dusting of snow, searching for animal tracks. His stomach growls, the only sound in the silent forest. He hasn’t eaten in days. As he wanders through the trees, he starts to hear a noise close by. He immediately becomes more alert. It could be his next meal. He quietly creeps through the underbrush, listening intently as the noise becomes louder and louder.
He peers through a bush and spies a round lump of fur beneath a tree. The low rumble is emanating from it, but the caveman can’t tell what kind of animal it is. He takes one small step forward and a twig snaps beneath his foot. Immediately the animal raises its head and looks in his direction. His heart stops.
It’s a bear cub.
The caveman freezes, uncertain of what to do. He moves his eyes, looking for any signs of the mother. His mouth has gone dry and his stomach has twisted itself in knots. He starts slowly backing away, his breath coming in short bursts. Finally the creature puts its head back down. The caveman immediately turns tail and runs away as fast as he can, paying no attention to the fact that he has diverted from the path he came from and now is more likely to encounter an ornery mama bear.
Thousands of years later, inside her warm and comfy office, Sophie is feeling stressed and overwhelmed. She just talked to her boss, who told her that the project she had been working on needs to be done in two days. She had frozen during that call and barely said a word before her boss hung up the phone. She thought she had two weeks to do this project. She has so much work to do now and there’s no way she’s going to finish on time.
Her mind is all over the place, bouncing from thought to thought and emotion to emotion. She’s angry at her boss for changing the due date. She’s worried what will happen if she doesn’t finish the project. All the tasks she has to do run through her brain, but she struggles to focus on any singular thing. She has to get to work but she doesn’t know where to start. She ends up spending the next few hours in a state of panic, and barely gets anything done.
She decides she’s going to go home for the night and tell her boss what for in the morning. After all, it’s her boss’ fault this happened in the first place.
You might be wondering how these two stories are related. One person is struggling to survive while the other is dealing with pressure at work. Seems like two situations that greatly differ in terms of setting and seriousness. However, both of these situations cause what neuroscientists call “the amygdala hijack.”
The Amygdala Hijack
When your brain perceives a threat, the amygdala activates. This causes the body to start producing greater amounts of adrenaline and cortisol. This is your fight or flight response, which is meant to keep you alive in dangerous situations. However, your brain doesn’t differentiate for this process. Anything seen as a threat will cause this. This can include things such as public speaking, worrying about a first date, cramming for a test, etc. These are not what most people would consider life-and-death situations, yet they still cause the same reaction.
If you are encountering stress at work, your brain reacts the same way it would if you were being chased by an angry mama bear. This is not only impractical, but it can hinder your productivity.
Take Sophie as an example. Her productivity plummeted and she could barely think straight. Her emotions were getting the best of her. Instead of trying to get as much done as possible or having a candid conversation with her boss about the impossibility of her demand, she spent her time spinning her wheels and suffering from anxiety, overload, frustration, and stress.
Employee stress is at a record high right now. According to an annual report by Gallup, 44% of employees worldwide say they experienced stress at work the previous day. People are experiencing an amygdala hijack in non-survival situations more than ever.
Understanding what the amygdala hijack is and how it works is the first step in dealing with it. Now that you know these things, you can take the next step and start taking action to prevent this from happening at work. Our Change Agility Platinum Package can help with that. It provides steps and strategies to become more productive when you encounter stress and alleviate the effects of the amygdala hijack.
It’s time to start taking control of your reaction to stress and be confident and productive, even when facing challenges.
Here’s to your success,
The KeenAlignment Team