Last Friday I blogged about Stress Management by introducing some common symptoms that occur when one is under a lot of stress. Today I want to touch on what is happening in our physical bodies that brings about the symptoms we discussed last week.

The fight, flight or freeze response is how the body prepares itself to deal with stress and anxiety and even fear. Your cerebral cortex (the thinking part of the brain) sends an alarm to the hypothalamus, which then stimulates the sympathetic nervous system to make changes in the body to prepare itself for action -primarily, fight, flight or freeze.

The changes that occur are things like heart rate increase, muscle tension, blood pressure increases, metabolism. Blood is directed away from the digestive system and the extremities and re-directed toward major muscle groups that can help to fight or run.

In each stressful situation we face, our instinctual reptilian brain (which is the oldest part of the brain, responsible for instincts such as fight, flight or freeze) is activated and we instinctually respond with a course of action to deal with the situation, seemingly without thinking about it, as it seems to occur automatically, in a matter of seconds the fight, flight or freeze response is in action, directed by the hypothalamus to trigger the sympathetic nervous system to ready us for attack, alarm, or a perceived attack, readying us to fight the stressor, flee and avoid the stressor, or freeze up, unable to fight or flee.

We may not always freeze up, we may not always automatically fight, just as we may not always take flight from the stressful situation. It depends on each circumstance we face.

If you are afraid of public speaking for instance, once you get up to the podium, you might freeze up, unable to speak. Or perhaps you dance around the subject with your boss, trying to get out of having to do the speech (flight), or you face it head on and fight the butterflies in your stomach and do the speech.

Or if you need to confront a co-worker who is a bully at your work, perhaps you want to avoid the stressor and avoid taking shifts where you work with that person, or you simply feel anxiety the whole time you work with this person unable to confront the situation out of fear. Perhaps you decide enough is enough, I am going to report this bully and take action.

I am not saying ‘fighting’ is always the best choice in dealing with a stressful situation. For instance, if you do not have healthy confrontational skills and you end up verbally or even physically assaulting your irritating co-worker, perhaps fighting the situation via direct confrontation is not the best solution for you, and perhaps you should involve the management team instead.

In a situation where a burglar has entered your home with a gun and already shot someone in your home and he has not seen you, perhaps freezing is the best course of action to preserve your life. If he doesn’t see you and leaves, you can then contact the police and ‘fight’ the situation by taking action. But if the burger enters the area where you have chosen to freeze, it might be useful to look for options to get out and flee the area to avoid getting shot. This is a perfect example where all three responses may be needed at varying times in one situation, and your instinct will tell you what you ought to do. Perhaps you have the upper hand, and are able to come behind the burgled unaware and are able to knock him out and tie him up and take his gun away from him and call the police…. Another example of a fight response.

The point is, our bodies ready us for response and give us the extra boost of adrenaline and energy to face the stressful situation.

Long term stress can be very harmful to our bodies, over time, indicating that it is time for us to figure out how to manage anxiety and stress.

The parasympathetic nervous system is responsible for ‘rest and digest’ and is the part of the nervous system that needs to be activated to bring our bodies back to a state of calm after a stressful episode. I will blog more about how the parasympathetic nervous system comes into play next week as we begin to look at simple ways to manage our stress level.

And don’t forget, if you are relating to this, and feel like you need some additional help, Sign-Up Today for my montly webinar on stress management!!  If you’d like to look at another great resource, check out my one-on-one Boundary Development Program which will help bring control back into your life!

Cheers!

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If you have any questions on today’s blog or would like help on taking steps forward, I’d love to hear from you!  Post a comment below or visit my website and register for your Complimentary Strategy Session to discuss your situation in more detail.

Katie Meilleur – Certified Life Coach

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