Did you ever think about how our basic threat or stress responses of flight, fight and freeze are with us every single day from moment to moment?
I watched the fight response come alive in a grocery store the other day. A man in front of me checking out became agitated with the cashier because she couldn’t find a price on an item he wanted to purchase and had to call someone from the store to look it up.
It took more time and this man was obviously in a hurry. He grew very agitated and annoyed, and said remarks that expressed his anger. I realized I was looking at the fight response of a nervous system that was being sub-consciously triggered by the situation. Stress responses are always operating within us just below the surface.
Have there been times when you haven’t known what to say when someone has caught you off-guard? At work the other day, I saw a therapist whose client had made an off color remark. The therapist’s face was frozen over. She was at a complete loss for words to respond. It was the deer in the headlight look, a classic example of the freeze response.
And how many times have you said to yourself, “I Just want to get out of here” which illustrates the flight response that comes up in our every day lives. It can be as simple as waiting in line at a Starbucks drive through with cars ahead of you, behind you, and feeling trapped. It’s taking forever and you needed to be home, or back at the office five minutes ago. This increases our stress levels, creates anxiety, and makes us feel like running away.
Whether we act out our stress responses or not, they are still very much apart of our biology, and psychological make up.
Often we tend to judge ourselves pretty harshly and don’t understand why we so often react in a way that later makes us wish we could have a do-over, sometimes because we overreacted and sometimes because we under-reacted. However, when we recognize these biological forces are always operating in us and that the manner in which we manage the associated stress is something we can gain control over, it can help us to feel less shame and blame and more accepting about our biology.
These stress responses have been around for 270 million years. We are programmed more for stress then relaxation because on a fundamental level we want to survive and be alive! Often, these stress responses can be healthy coping mechanisms that have helped many of us get through difficult times. However, when the stress responses and thought patterns control us and prevent us from feeling peaceful, relaxed and grounded, then we might want to seek help and understand how to better manage the stress response.
An article published by The Harvard Health Publications has done a great job in describing the stress response.
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