North Bergen-based expert reveals secret to keeping calm
by Joseph Passantino
Reporter staff writer
Dec 15, 2013 | 6523 views | 0 0 comments | 101 101 recommendations | email to a friend | print
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The holidays are here, and though it’s a joyous time for most, it’s also a stressful time. The immense amount of cooking, cleaning, shopping, family contact, and financial pressures can spike someone’s stress levels to an all-time high.

The holidays, according to the American Psychological Association, are among the most stressful time of year for 38 percent of Americans.

So when family and other personal interactions get the best of you, North Bergen’s Gene Hirschel suggests one thing: “Blame ‘Amy.’ ”

Amy is his nickname for an area of the brain known as the amygdala, an area that can be associated with regulating emotions. The amygdala is responsible for the natural human inclination of shutting down logical thinking and creating an aggressive response. This automatic switch in the brain occurs whenever a person feels threatened or endangered and is often triggered by stressful situations such as dinner planning, cleaning, or that one relative who knows exactly which buttons to push.

“It’s understanding the subconscious,” Hirschel said. When the mind is turned off in fear, people feel like they’re in danger. The ‘thinking’ part of the brain; moral, ethics, compassion, is turned off.”

Becoming a lizard

Hirschel refers to this sudden change as a transformation from “human” to “lizard.”

“We’re turned into lizards, because that’s the part of the brain that’s better at protecting us, because when it does, it fills our bodies with adrenalin,” he said. “It makes us good fighters and good runners. But it doesn’t make us good negotiators.”

Unfortunately, when one becomes a lizard not only does he or she react in a volatile and angry way toward others, but this reaction normally causes a chain reaction in which others become lizards themselves due to their own feeling of endangerment.
The holidays are among the most stressful time of year for 38 percent of Americans.
Hirschel has figured out that the way to combat holiday and other relationship stress is to identify the reason for the stress and use that information to take control of it the next time, learning from the volatile interactions.

Through his strategy to “Blame Amy,” Hirschel helps clients recognize when this switch is occurring and teaches them to stop it from taking place.

“The ‘Blame Amy’ method has seen fantastic relationship building and stress management results in school systems and corporations throughout the New York City area,” he said.

Hirschel offers five tips to help relieve that holiday stress and therefore “unburden” you this holiday season.

Method to cope

First, recognize your overreactions are not your fault. Learn what pushes your buttons and begin to tame Amy.

Second, visualize the perceived threat as being scared instead of angry. Humanize him or her by giving him or her a sad or scared face in your mind.

Third, begin dialogue by speaking calmly and steadily in a quiet tone. Do not raise your voice. Fourth, mirror the other person by using his or her body language. Subconsciously, this reminds the other person of him or herself, a person he or she cannot be angry at.

Fifth, continue speaking calmly and repeat even if the other person raises his or her voice. Eventually he or she cannot help but become calm.

Hirschel says this method is a proven commodity, something he teachers regularly to groups of all types. His “Blame Amy” therapeutic method creates positive changes in terms of stress management and relationship enhancement.

He says this therapy allows clients to recognize this occurrence within him or herself as well as others, training them to turn off the switch and better cope with stress. This method is highly effective in reducing stress levels during the holiday season and maintaining happy, healthy familial relationships.

Township and Hudson guy

Hirschel is more than happy to maintain life right here in North Bergen. Calling himself a “long-term Hudson guy,” aside from being born in New York, he grew up and has lived in North Bergen his entire life. He rattles off a who’s who of schools in the township and county that he has attended: Lincoln Grammar School, North Bergen High School, St. Peter’s University, and Stevens Institute of Technology.

“It’s as Hudson as you can get,” Hirschel said. “And I’m still here.”

He even maintains his practice here in the township, in the building he lives in on Palisade Avenue.

“My commute is pushing the ‘down’ elevator button,” he joked.

More information

Hirschel is classified as a behavioral or hypno consultant. For more information on him or his practice, VTrance Dynamic Resources, call (888) 963-7245, email or visit

Joseph Passantino may be reached at

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