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Understanding Fight-or-Flight & How to Manage in Stressful situations

The body is designed to automatically react to danger. By simply thinking of a stressful situation the body can trigger a “fight-or-flight” response. Fight-or-flight is an instinctual/sudden surge in strength providing an individual with the ability to either powerfully engage (fight) or to quickly flee (flight) from a threat. Just as you would jump upon hearing a sudden loud noise, the instant that your brain detects apparent danger your heart rate will involuntarily increase; pumping blood to your muscles. Muscle tension will boost strength, while heavy breathing will allow for greater oxygen intake, enabling endurance. This is essentially what anxiety is. It is the body reacting to a perceived threat.

The brain in fight-or-flight mode can be compared to a parent telling a child to run out of a burning house. When the child tries to understand what is happening and questions the parent, the parent says, “Run now, ask later.” Similarly, your ability to logically assess and to respond to a situation is severely compromised when a threat is sensed, as your body immediately responds to ensure survival, before your mind does. Hence, it may not always be possible to think your way out of an intense emotional reaction in the moment, even if you know that the threat is in your mind. So what can you do to calm down and to help get your nerves under control when experiencing anxiety?

When you are feeling anxious you should conduct yourself as if you are not anxious – even when alone. Any outward action signifying that you are not in mortal danger will send signals to the brain that the threat has past. Which in turn will elicit the body’s natural ability to settle down and to self-regulate. The logic is simple; if a bear where to be running after you, you would not sit down to have a picnic. In other words, anything that you do, that you would not do when faced with mortal danger will help to calm you down.

It’s important to figure out what specific action calms you down and raises your state of mind when you are feeling anxious. For some exercise works, for others it’s gardening, cooking, cleaning or getting into a daily routine. Many find that fresh air and consciously slowing down their breathing is helpful, while others feel that listening to music is particularly soothing. Alternative ways to help relax your nerves include reading, writing or unwinding in your favorite chair with a warm drink or a snack. 

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Keeping Fit – It’s Not Only Physical

It is natural for feelings of anxiety to increase during this challenging time – no-one likes uncertainty.  Fitness and self-care is important at the best of times, so it becomes even more important when we are under higher than normal levels of stress.

Here’s some things that might help:

  • Create a list of things that make you feel good and keep it handy.  Sometimes it’s hard to think of ideas in the moment.
  • Put together a ‘coping box’ that addresses all of your senses, it may include things like: a scented candle, some chocolate or herbal tea, some calming music, something soft and cuddly, photos of loved ones… Then it will be ready for whenever you need it.
  • Share self-care/keep fit ideas with friends and family, or your Facebook groups and social networks; someone may have a great idea that you haven’t thought of.
  • Keep a gratitude journal.  There are always things to be grateful for, even if it is just the smell of bread baking (which is all the rage in quarantine I hear).

Do you have ideas and suggestions you’d like to share?  Please add them in the comments below.  You may just help someone find a new joy.