F = False
E = Evidence
A = Appearing
R = Real
It is a trick of the modern world for our brains to register so much fear. Reports often cite the problem to be a lack of adaptation in our bodies. Chemicals are released according to ancient patterns and we respond to stimuli without thinking too much about it. The problem is that we are not following the whole circuit through to the end. We stop short.
I learned about the fight or flight response while in grade school. This concept was loosely presented as a means to explain the way we feel when scared or frightened. How our muscles are able to perform amazing physical feats which they otherwise might not be able to. Maybe the teacher even mentioned the chemical release, which is responsible for the surge of strength to allow a sprint across the plains. The entire story was presented against the backdrop of early humans living on the savannah who had to hunt for their dinner or run for their lives.
At the time, I thought the whole concept was rather abstract. I wondered what the point of the story was? Why did we need to know this? What did it matter that a human being could sometimes outrun the danger of a tiger? That kind of threat was not going to present itself to me. I felt the moral of the story was, stay away from that kind of stuff and then you won’t have to worry about running for your life.
Being mindful of danger was likely one of the lessons being taught. But also, the human body is capable of amazing things. Science at the time, was just beginning to test all the facets involved in various ways we respond to stimuli. The field of brain research was just getting going. It would be decades before anyone realized that the unused chemicals from a fight or flight response are not benign.
Even though the full story of fight or flight, now has all the missing facts, what do we do with that information? It is the problem of our time. There is so much information being thrown around with very little context for how it can best be used. We consume something and then move along. We are like the old video game, Pacman, gobbling everything up and not getting any bigger, better or wiser. We are a one trick pony.
Life used to be simpler, for sure. Back in the old days. The really old days. Not just when I was a child. If you found yourself about to be chased down by something big and dangerous, here is how it went in the body.
- The cycle begins with a threat of danger. A smell, a sight or even an inbound force, like a menacing animal charging. We receive this in the amygdala, a part of our brains in the back of the head, near the spinal cord.
- The reaction throughout our body is sudden. Chemical messengers get going. A rush of heat, as our muscles flush with blood. A surge of different hormones, all with specific jobs. We are made ready to take action.
- Our nervous system takes control of digestion, heart rate and host of other stuff. In effect our brains over ride our normal reactions in order to focus our attention on what is most important.
- We take action. We think scenarios through with lightning speed. We react. We run or fight. The muscles are made ready and instantly swing into action. This intensity can be sustained for a short period of time, usually enough to avoid a fateful end.
- During the course of the physical activity, the various chemicals in the body are processed or consumed. They are no longer available. We are exhausted from the effort, but relieved to be safe and sound. The entire cycle has run its course in the way it should.
One of the chemicals released in this transaction is particularly troublesome if the cycle is not completed. If the activity of fight or flight does not occur and cortisol is not consumed, a whole host of side effects can occur. Ironically, our own biology — which was designed to ensure our survival as hunters and gatherers — is sabotaging our bodies and minds in the sedentary digital age we now live in.
The question becomes, considering our amazing ability to fight or take flight, how do we adapt? Clearly, technology and the pace of our modern world are not slowing down any time soon. So, we need to build strategies in order to thrive in this time. Luckily, everything mentioned below has multiple cross over effects. Nothing is strange or new, you have heard it all before. These methods are tried and true.
- Physical activity – which does not need to particularly intense, as detailed above. Just do something for a sustained period of time, several times a week. The cross over health benefits are significant.
- Meditation – this might surprise some people. Simply spending a few minutes to control your breathing and focus your mind on the present can clear cortisol from your body. It is that simple.
- Connection – to loved ones and friends and even strangers. Having an open attitude towards people in general. As Brene Brown has said, many times, we are wired for connection.
- Laughter – even when life does not serve up much to chuckle about, seek it out. Watch a baby delight in laughing for the first time. The many forms of popular entertainment, from big and small screens, books and the internet, all avenues producing humorous content.
- Music – nothing transports me back to the simple days of old better than music. It takes our minds back to the physical state of another time and place. Just pick a good one.
The really hard question becomes, how do manage fear? There are real things to be frightened of. Two moments in our year away from home come to mind. Watching my children be attended to by a young doctor in Bali and driving through a township in Cape Town, gave me a feeling I would rather not have again. But, after a short time, even the feeling of dread I had, passed.
Where I have struggled with fear was when I could not process stress properly. After years and years of constant neglect, my ability to step back and gain perspective had dissolved. I felt every bump in the road as a personal attack. When things went wrong, as they tend to, I could not recover. It was like I had injured my foot, but had to run everywhere. I ended up limping, never letting my body rest and heal. Until I left work for 18 months.
Now, I stand back from what is happening around me. I don’t lean into all the situations at work, or in the grocery store line-up or when riding the bus. None of that matters to me. Accepting stress, worry and fear in any of those situations is a waste of my time. I can see that now. If someone, other than my family and friends seems frustrated and is talking in a harsh way, that is on them, not me.
I am left to spend my time and energy building better relationship with people I care about. In that space, I don’t feel any fear. Instead there is love, respect and joy. I focus my tender heart on the people who care about me and who lift me up with their smiles. By living like this, I can honour my authentic self. Fear has a hard time growing in that environment.
Join me in this creative journey. I am on a mission to start a global movement, focusing on the importance of creativity in our daily lives. Together, let us see where we can take this. I look forward to hearing from you! Please share your thoughts. Feel free to send an email to: Christine@dailycreatives.com #creaspatreat
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