As humans, we are hard-wired to avoid threats. That’s a good thing. It serves us well, and is probably one of the reasons we are still on the planet. What ever you believe about how we started out, the truth is, there is always something out there that is bigger than us.
Faster than you can snap your fingers, the body reacts with Fight/Flight when we come up against or interpret something as a threat.
The key word here is ‘interpret’. These days, there’s no chance of a real sabre tooth tiger considering us prey, however over time we’ve allowed more and more external stress to push us into that same anxiousness – and Fight/Flight reaction. When you’re aware of it, it’s pretty easy to recognize the feeling of high alert……Shortness of breath (panting or holding your breath), dry mouth, tense muscles, a feeling of alarm, clenched stomach (or nausea), shoulders up and around your ears, you’re feeling defensive and reactive. That’s adrenaline and cortisol doing their thing.
There are stats saying we are now in that state 40 – 50 times a day! Wow, that sounds exhausting. Beyond the physical results of this sort of long-term stress, I wonder:
Do I make good decisions in this reactive state? Do I want to be in a perpetual defensive stance of Fight/Flight? Is that how I want to live my life?
Yes, sometimes the threat is real. And, it’s important to protect oneself; recognize, respect and react appropriately to a real threat.
But often, we avoid decisions or experiences that we really want to have, because we are afraid of things that might happen. Sometimes we imagine stuff or make things up because we are afraid of change or the unknown (or how others might respond). Those darned ‘what if’s’ and ‘yah buts’ can really limit us; hold us down and keep us in that state of fear.
Here’s one way to get off the roller-coaster ride of Fight/Flight Start by noticing when, where, how the F/F reaction is taking place. Is it a real threat or is it something you’re making up? If it’s something made up, take a 3 or 4 deep belly breaths, imagine you are mentally pushing ‘Pause’, and then ask yourself ‘What’s really going on here? What is it really that makes me feel this way?’ Is it something that is within my control? Can I do something about it now? What do I want to do about it? What would I rather experience in this moment?’
I’m not suggesting that we can (or should) suddenly throw caution to the wind. I’m simply suggesting that when we begin to notice what’s happening in our body, and then what we are really feeling, it gives us perspective and personal power. Is it a sabre tooth tiger, or am I projecting my worry onto future events? The future is unknown – we can plan and do our best, and then ultimately, we have to let events unfold. We cannot control others or the future. (Or as the great philosopher Mike Tyson told us, “Everyone’s got a plan, until they get punched in the nose.”) All we can ever really control is our response, our thoughts, our selves.
When we show ourself compassion, and allow for a moment to pause, we begin to notice how we’re really feeling (what is underneath the reaction), and begin to feel more in control of our life. It’s not magic and typically doesn’t happen overnight, but with practice this reflection helps us become more aware of our reactions sooner – and we can gently re-direct our thoughts, avoid saying things we’d regret, and move toward more of what we would rather experience.
And that makes it much easier to answer the question, ‘How do I really want to live my life?’