Amygdala Hijack: Understanding the Brain’s Fight or Flight Response

When faced with a perceived threat, our brains trigger a physical response that helps us protect ourselves from danger. This response is known as the fight or flight response and is our body’s way of preparing us to either face the danger or escape it. However, there are times when our response may be so strong that it goes beyond what is necessary, leading us to overreact or respond inappropriately. This intense response is known as amygdala hijack, and in this article, we will explore what it is, its causes, and how to prevent it from happening.

What is Amygdala Hijack?

The amygdala is a small almond-shaped structure located in the brain’s temporal lobe that is responsible for processing emotions. It works in conjunction with the prefrontal cortex to regulate emotions and assess danger. When there is a perceived threat, the amygdala quickly evaluates the situation and triggers the body’s fight or flight response. This response is essential for our survival and helps us respond to danger appropriately.

However, there are times when our response is so intense that it interferes with the prefrontal cortex’s ability to think rationally and make logical decisions. This is where amygdala hijack occurs – when emotions override reason, leading to irrational and often inappropriate responses.

Causes of Amygdala Hijack

Several factors can trigger amygdala hijack. These include:


Stress is a leading cause of amygdala hijack. When we are under stress, the amygdala goes into overdrive, which can interfere with the prefrontal cortex’s ability to think critically, leading to inappropriate responses.


The amygdala is triggered by fear. When we face something that we perceive as a threat, it can trigger an intense response that may go beyond what is necessary.

Past Trauma

Past traumas, such as abuse or violence, can also trigger amygdala hijack. When we experience past traumas, the amygdala can become hypersensitive, making it easier to trigger the fight or flight response.

Excessive Use of Drugs or Alcohol

Excessive consumption of drugs or alcohol can also trigger amygdala hijack. Both substances can impair our ability to think rationally, leading to impulsive and inappropriate responses.

Signs of Amygdala Hijack

Recognizing when amygdala hijack is occurring is crucial in managing our responses. Some signs that amygdala hijack may be occurring include:

  • Increased heart rate
  • Rapid breathing
  • Sweating
  • Loss of appetite
  • Difficulty thinking or making decisions
  • Strong emotional responses
  • Aggressive or violent behavior

If you notice any of these symptoms, it is essential to take steps to prevent amygdala hijack from occurring.

How to Prevent Amygdala Hijack

Managing stress is one of the most effective ways to prevent amygdala hijack from occurring. Incorporating stress-reducing practices into your daily routine can help you manage your emotions and prevent the amygdala from going into overdrive. Some stress-reducing practices include:


Practicing mindfulness meditation can help you manage stress by training your brain to focus on the present moment and let go of negative thoughts and emotions.


Physical activity is an effective way to relieve stress and release tension. Regular exercise can help you manage stress and prevent the amygdala from going into overdrive.

Deep Breathing

Deep breathing exercises can help you calm your mind and body, reducing stress and preventing amygdala hijack from occurring.


Ensuring that you take care of yourself, both physically and emotionally, is crucial in managing stress and preventing amygdala hijack. Taking time for yourself, practicing good nutrition, and getting enough sleep can help you stay calm and centered in stressful situations.


In summary, amygdala hijack occurs when emotions override reason, leading to inappropriate and often irrational responses. This can be triggered by several factors, including stress, fear, past trauma, and excessive drug or alcohol use. Recognizing the signs of amygdala hijack and taking steps to prevent it from occurring is essential for managing our responses and ensuring that we respond effectively to perceived threats. Incorporating stress-reducing practices, such as meditation, exercise, deep breathing, and self-care, can help us manage our emotions and prevent amygdala hijack from occurring.


FAQs About Amygdala Hijack

What is Amygdala Hijack?

Amygdala hijack happens when our amygdala, the emotional part of our brain, takes over our rational and logical thinking. It can happen when we experience a sudden and overwhelming emotional reaction to a situation or trigger. This often results in irrational behavior or an emotional outburst that we may regret later on.

What causes Amygdala Hijack?

Amygdala hijack can be triggered by various factors such as stress, anxiety, fear, trauma, or even arousal. It can also happen when we experience something that triggers a past trauma or negative experience. The hijack occurs when our brain perceives a situation as a threat and activates our fight or flight response, which overrides our rational thinking.

How can we prevent or manage Amygdala Hijack?

The first step in managing amygdala hijack is to become aware of our triggers and learn to recognize the signs of an impending hijack, such as increased heart rate, sweating, or a tightness in our chest. We can also practice relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, mindfulness, or physical exercise to manage our emotions and reduce stress. It’s also important to seek professional help if we have experienced past traumas that may be contributing to our hijacks. By managing our emotions and developing healthy coping mechanisms, we can prevent the negative consequences of amygdala hijack and improve our overall well-being.


1. LeDoux, J. (2000). Emotion circuits in the brain. Annual Review of Neuroscience, 23(1), 155-184. Retrieved from

2. Phelps, E.A. (2006). Emotion and cognition: insights from studies of the human amygdala. Annual Review of Psychology, 57(1), 27-53. Retrieved from

3. Goleman, D. (1996). Emotional intelligence: Why it can matter more than IQ. New York: Bantam Books. Retrieved from