The Survival Response – Fight, Flight or Freeze

I am a freezer….when I feel that I am in danger–imminent physical danger that is–I freeze.  I know others who fight–and I know some others that flee…But when my body is flooded with the stress chemicals–my reaction is to freeze…..and then I try to reason my way out of the situation…unfortunately–when we are in the throes of a survival response we are physiologically incapable of accessing our higher thought processes…in other words we are incapable of reasoning–our emotional brain takes over and our reptilian brain jumps into gear to help us survive.

This is great from an evolutionary stand point….it has obviously worked for the human species over the years–or we wouldn’t be as prolific as we are….I am not so sure it works for us individually….how many times have we done or said something that we regret?  We lash out verbally or physically (fight) to protect ourselves…we disengage (flee) to avoid conflict or discomfort, or we freeze (unable to say or do anything) to protect ourselves–the human equivalent of playing dead…(if I don’t move then that predator won’t bother with me)…none of these survival responses really help us deal with our emotional stress–and today that is mostly what we as humans contend with…..So what can we do about this?

Our survival response is, just that, a survival response–whenever we feel attacked or cornered or scared or threatened or overwhelmed we all respond physiologically by releasing the stress hormones into our system…the very same hormones that prevent us from rational thought and solution oriented thinking…..that is why so many of us keep doing the same things over and over again..we are simply too stressed out to really think…we cannot change our physiological response…or can we?

I think we can mitigate some of our stress responses….I don’t think we can, nor would we want to, completely eradicate our survival response.  It does come in handy when needed.  Most of us do not need the full blown survival response to live our daily lives.  Although most of us are running around with heightened levels of stress hormones flooding our bodies that prevents us from accessing our highest thought potential…our ability to problem solve, have creative solutions and best responses is limited, because of these stress hormones floating around in our system…so how can we start to alleviate the physiological response to stress–so we can access our highest thought potential?

First off–we need to figure our how to reduce the levels of stress hormones floating around in our bodies….this can be accomplished in many ways—

1.  Look at what you ingest

How many chemicals are putting into your body that rev it up?  ie: caffeine, nicotine.

How many chemicals or additives are you adding into your system that cause stress on your digestive system to handle?

What we put into our mouths or ingest in any way–thru our skin, our lungs, or our mouth, causes a reaction in the body…by eliminating as much of these nutritional stressors on the body as we can–we allow the body to run at its most efficient.

2.  Look at your environment

Are you surrounded by chaos, loud noise, wrong temperature, negativity, bad air, sickness?

really think about where you spend your time and how that can effect your body….then take steps to mitigate any environmental stressors…ie: dress appropriately for the weather, create serene environments, eliminate chaos and clutter, get rid of negative people…..obviously we can not cover all the environmental stressors–but taking steps to eliminate what we can and create the best environment for ourselves is one step that will have huge results on your level of stress hormones.

3.  Get your body moving

one of the ways our body can process stress is by moving…get the blood pumping, the joints moving, muscles stretching, we are made to be mobile creatures…so get out there and get moving.  This does not need to be a big huge production like joining the most expensive gym in town and getting a personal trainer–or even signing up for the closest most aggressive yoga class..simply get up and stretch if you are at work at a desk, go for a walk at lunch, take the stairs, park as far way from the door as possible, go out dancing, walk, walk and walk some more—look for anyway that you can be more mobile during the day and take advantage of it.

4.  Smile and be kind

The simple act of forming your mouth into a smile sets off a release of chemicals in your body that help reduce stress.  If you can smile at another human being…this will make the effect even stronger.  Being kind to another unsuspecting human can make a world of difference both on their stress level and your own…we feel good when we make others feel good.  so acknowledge your neighbor, the store clerk, the mailman acknowledge who ever you see–who ever crosses your path–give people smiles and kind words…I am telling you–you will be amazed at how much better that makes you feel….and it does reduce your stress chemicals and also increases your anti stress chemicals–a total win win….

5.  Believe that the universe is looking out for you

If you believe that the world is really a good place and that there is some sort of divine plan and guidance in place–it makes it so much easier to cope with all the crap that life sends your way.  We are not in control of life–so to pretend that we are and to try to strive for control just makes us miserable and stressed–so accepting the fact that you have no real control over what happens to you gives you a sense of freedom…if you can then accept the fact that everything is happening for a good reason…that then allows you the ability to respond to what ever happens from a place of faith that all is/will be well–not from fear and aggravation.

imagine if you could respond to everyone and everything in your life as if it were a divine gift? How would that change your life?  You wouldn’t be stressed, that’s for sure :)

I have recently had the not so fun experience of a survival response that flooded my body and intercepted all logical thought…I froze in place and couldn’t figure out how to extricate myself from the situation.  I was all panicky and unable to find the solution.  Luckily I was with one of my friends, who saw my fear and guided me to a safe place…where I could then breath and regain my sense of thought….

Mostly though I don’t find myself in physically dangerous places…but when I get triggered emotionally my response is quite similar–except I have more of a tendency to move into fight or flight–I either lash out or I withdraw…neither of which helps me in my relationships.  I am slowly gaining the ability to recognize when I am in that spot–I can recognize the physical symptoms–a pounding heart, sweaty palms, short breaths and even more slowly realizing that when in this spot my best course of action is to not respond…not withdraw but not directly engage either…basically ask for a timeout for yourself until you can respond in a helpful manner!

Our emotional takeovers happen quickly with very little warning in most cases—and we are all ill equipped to extricate ourselves alone….I believe the best we can do is to keep our stress levels as low as possible on a consistent basis so that it takes a bit more to get us past the point of no return….and when we are there…to recognize the place and refrain from acting out….

It is better to ask for a time out than it is to inflict more pain into a situation–particularly when you are dealing with a hugely emotional issue….the calmer you can remain in the moment the more leeway you will have for decision making down the road….diffuse the situation rather than add to it….and the calmer you can keep yourself on a regular basis the easier this will be to remember the next time you are faced with a big stressor.