Fight or Flight: Stress on a Primitive Level
I had originally written this blog post for my friend Nicole Jardim who owns the site TheHealthyElements.com
Fight or Flight? This is the question we face everyday when our stress levels peak and anxiety takes control.
Society has dictated that neither is an acceptable response. But what our bodies fail to let us forget is that we are in fact animals, and within us lives a primitive instinct to run or fight in the face of uncomfortable situations. If our animal instincts dominated us completely, we’d either run for the hills or stand and fight. Alas, we are humans and have buried this primitive behavior – replacing it with depression, anxiety, stress, and feelings of overwhelm.
As a Hypnotherapist, I find that stress is at the root of most presenting issues. Two questions that I ask my clients (which at first may seem rather random) but are quite relevant are:
- Are you experiencing any tension or tightness in your body that you or a medical doctor is unable to explain?
- When you think about your issue, where do you feel tightness or tension in your body?
When stress cannot be released through fight or flight, it goes inward to our bodies as a “body syndrome”. Each body syndrome is directly correlated to a feeling or struggle that that individual is experiencing. A description of the various body syndromes is described below:
Arms and Hands
Reaching or fighting for the unobtainable.
Legs and Feet
Trying to escape or run away from an issue.
Stomach and Lower Back
Guilt, worry, and sometimes even sexual frustration.
Head down to sternum
Called the Crying Syndrome, this syndrome has to do with persons who are having a hard time making decisions or expressing their emotions.
Too much responsibility, and at times not wanting it.
If the tension is on the right side of the body, it deals with logic and finance, while the left side has to do with creativity and relationships.
By beginning to understand where in your body the stress is presenting itself, you can begin to recognize how to alleviate the symptoms.
Remember, not all stress is unwanted or bad. What if I told you that we all need a required amount of stress to function at peak performance? Stress, while it tends to carry with it a negative connotation, plays a very important role in our daily lives. When our stress levels are too low, we can become unmotivated, unfocused, or even lazy.
However, finding this balance of peak performance can be tricky as our motivations, societal obligations and pressures, and job requirements can often push us into the over- stimulated and overwhelmed category. Here, our bodies become taxed as stress moves inward and we lose our sense of control—our animal fight or flight kicks in. And yet despite knowing the benefits of maintaining control, we are unable to disassociate in order to return to peak performance.
So why can’t we allow ourselves to relax in order to feel the benefits of returning to peak performance, thus letting go of the stress, anxiety, and overwhelm? This is because our subconscious mind is made up of known associations that we have been creating and embedding in our subconscious since birth. For example, we have made the association that disconnecting from the day may have negative consequences. This association becomes stored in our subconscious, which makes up 88% of our mind. The remaining 12% is our conscious mind, which is where our logic, reasoning, and willpower reside. No wonder creating change on a conscious level can be so hard when you are only working with 12% of your mind!
The subconscious is purely reactive. Thus, when your conscious mind says ‘its time to go to bed and turn off the phone,’ your subconscious rebels and says ‘this isn’t how I have been programmed to react,’ and it refuses to switch off, needing to check the phone or email one last time resulting in spiraling thoughts and sleeplessness. While your conscious knows that by disconnecting you would be doing yourself a big service in getting a good night’s rest, your subconscious refuses to respond in tandem with the conscious because the idea of change is scary. It’s much easier for the subconscious to stay the same, and in turn why habits and patterns are so hard to break.
So what does one do when faced with these situations?
1. Thank your subconscious mind
When you feel anxious or nervous and cannot consciously identify the cause, this is your subconscious reacting to an embedded trigger that something feels uncomfortable. Very often we don’t recognize the things that trigger us on the subconscious level. Thank your subconscious and begin the process of deductive reasoning to understand what is subconsciously triggering you to react in such a way.
2. Listen to your intuition
Ask yourself, what is it about this situation that is causing your subconscious to react? Could this be your intuition saying this is a bad idea? or this brings up unpleasant or painful memories? Would changing your thought or actions help you re-route your stress and anxiety toward a more calm and relaxed state?
3. Take a deep breath
When anxiety hits, your breathing is normally shallow, short, and from high in the chest. Take a deep breath—breathe from the tips of your toes. With each breath make your stomach move in and out rather than your chest. This breathing technique will elicit, on a chemical level, a reverse reaction to the anxiety in your body.
One thing we can learn from smokers is that the reason they feel so calm after a cigarette isn’t because of the tobacco, or the thousands of chemicals that are in it. But rather, their deep relaxation is due to the way they are breathing. Each ‘drag’ is bringing oxygen deeper into their diaphragm eliciting a calming reaction in their body. Each deep breath relaxes them.
Begin to notice if you are breathing from shallow in your chest. Start taking in deep breathes of fresh air, which in turn will naturally begin to start a chemical reaction to calm your body. Thereby reversing the fight or flight reaction.
4. Realize you have a choice
When anxiety hits, think of it as standing at a fork in the road. To the left is the path to feeling out of control and anxious. To the right, is the path that leads to relaxation and calm; this is the path where you are in control of your body and thoughts. Empower yourself to choose which road to take. Simply, these two paths cannot coexist. With your knowledge and understanding of anxiety and stress on the subconscious level, you are now empowered to take control.
As a certified hypnotherapist I work with clients to begin to create new associations within the subconscious mind so that they can create the changes they want in their conscious life. By creating these changes, clients are able to bring forward new patterns, habits, and behaviors where even small changes snowball into larger ones. Begin to live the life you imagine. Balance and align your conscious desires with your subconscious motivations. When you are working with 100% of your mind, change becomes much easier.