In Defence of the Fight or Flight Response

Photo Credit: Gabriel Matula on Unsplash.

Photo Credit: Gabriel Matula on Unsplash.

In many stress management books and articles we are painted as hapless victims of a pathetically primitive survival system – the Fight or Flight response (aka the stress response). The argument goes that the Fight or Flight response whilst suitable for helping our ancestors deal with sabre-tooth tigers and the suchlike, is wholly inappropriate for us modern day humans when, for example, we're stuck in a traffic jam or facing an unrealistic deadline at work.

According to the Fight or Flight critics, this woefully outdated response goes off like a car alarm every time we are in trouble and makes everybody sick, and the best thing would be if we could stop it with a ‘magic bullet’ or have it surgically removed. Some stress ideologists even claim that Mother Nature is trying to kill us!

The question is, should we really perceive ourselves as victims of a natural response that has played such a key role in our survival across millennia?

The Fight or Flight response is remarkable. It evolved to help us deal with physical threats against which we could take physical action (e.g. the oft quoted sabre tooth tiger). However, the majority of the threats we face today do not represent physical threats to our survival, rather they are perceived threats to our Physical and Emotional Needs. These perceived threats may be real or imagined. 

The amygdala, a very primitive, early developed part of brain (which gives the signal to activate the Fight or Flight Response) isn’t able to distinguish between actual life threatening physical events and imagined threats. Indeed, when the Fight or Flight response first evolved we didn’t have a ‘thinking brain’ and there was no such thing as imagination. Today, when we imagine ourselves in a scenario where one or more of our Physical and Emotional Needs is under threat, we are likely to trigger the Fight or Flight response.

The consequence of triggering the Fight or Flight response is a mixture of physiological, mental and emotional symptoms we label stress. Stress, while often disquieting and unpleasant, is intended to galvanize us to take urgent action, or make urgent plans, to solve the riddle of the situation in order to save ourselves from the threat. 

The Fight or Flight response functions like a fire or burglar alarm, and the stress it produces is not meant to be ignored, or endured. It’s a call to action. So rather than subscribing to the idea that the Fight or Flight response has outlived its usefulness and should be switched off, we need recognise it for the valuable role it continues to play in our day to day survival and well-being.

To reduce the stress we experience from inappropriate activation of the Fight or Flight response we need to:

  • learn how to stop misusing our imagination

  • get better at appraising threats

  • enhance our coping capabilities

  • learn to deal with stress before it begins to have an adverse impact on the way we live our lives.

What Next?

If you’d like to explore how well you are currently dealing with stress and how you can manage your stress better, contact me on 021 056 8389 or email tony@tycoaching.nz.

 

Have a wonderful week.

Go well

Tony

 

REMEMBER - "When you change your mind you change your life."

 

Tony helps individuals to harness the power of their mind to achieve success and well-being in life, work and business. Tony's particular area of expertise lies in helping people to 'change their minds' so they gain freedom from worry, anxiety and stress, overcome limiting beliefs and unhelpful habits. Tony’s solution focused approach to coaching uses a range of techniques drawn from the fields of solution focused coaching, neuroscience, positive psychology and clinical hypnosis.

 

How to Master Anxiety

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Everyone experiences anxiety to some degree - but individuals who suffer from severe anxiety have excessive and unrealistic feelings of dread, apprehension and impending disaster that interfere with their normal everyday lives and relationships.

By learning how to master anxiety we can stop the interference.

Understanding how anxiety manifests itself

Understanding how anxiety manifests itself is important because it enables us to identify the warning signs and take proactive action.

In their excellent book “How to Master Anxiety – All You Need To Know To Overcome Stress, Panic Attacks, Phobias, Trauma, Obsessions and More” authors Joe Griffin and Ivan Tyrell describe the various ways in which anxiety can manifest itself.

Perhaps:

  • when you wake in the morning and open your eyes, a vague, unidentifiable feeling of fear or anxiety envelops you. You go through your day with that unidentifiable sense of impending disaster.

  • your anxiety is less intrusive than that. You look perfectly normal, behave perfectly normally, get on with your life apparently normally. And yet you don't feel fulfilled or truly happy or fully in the heart of things. A lot of the time you feel panicky or nervous. You can't relax or settle down to things. "What if?" and "shouldn't I?" questions run through your mind most of the time ( although you might not be aware of this). The disabling anxiety is almost always there, on your shoulder, weighing you down. At night, it stops you getting off to sleep and, if you wake in the early hours, it kicks in at once, preventing you from dropping back to sleep again quickly.

  • suddenly, for no reason you can fathom, your heart starts to pound; you are sweating and shaking; struggling to take in enough breath, you feel that you are choking; your stomach drops to the ground and you have the terrible feeling that you are going to lose control of your bladder and your bowels. You are in the midst of a panic attack. With each occurrence you feel more hopeless and helpless. You start to avoid places where there might be a risk of experiencing a panic and gradually your world starts to shrink as you avoid more and more places.

There are very many different ways that severe anxiety can affect people, these are just a few examples, but there is one impact that is common to all. Like a tyrant, severe anxiety stops people from enjoying a normal, happy and fulfilling life.

Anxiety is not something we have it’s something we do.

“Anxiety is not all powerful and inexplicable - it can be managed very easily ... when you know how. 'Instead of anxiety working against you ... it can be tamed to work for you, just as it was always meant to.”

Ivan Tyrell and Joe Griffin

The physiological, psychological, and emotional state of being anxious is an outcome of our mind/body system completing the STRESS process. The STRESS process is part of our natural, innate survival system.

Accepting the fact that anxiety is not something we have - it is not an “it,” “thing” disease, or illness – rather it is something we ‘do,’ is one of the keys to mastering severe anxiety. Why?

Because it puts us back in the driving seat. If we are the ones ‘doing’ our anxiety then with the right help, tools and techniques we can change the way we run our STRESS process, and thereby reduce the risk of experiencing severe anxiety and/or regain control over the anxiety we are currently experiencing.

Tools and techniques

''You already have all the tools you need to take back control.”

Ivan Tyrell and Joe Griffin

There are a number of tools and techniques which are applicable, whatever form severe anxiety takes. These include:

  • Identifying and addressing missing physical and emotional needs

  • learning to make the best use of our existing resources (internal and external) particularly our imagination. Misuse of our imagination is usually at the root of anxiety. We can use the positive power of our imagination to manage our thoughts and feelings and change our experience of anxiety.

  • Identifying and changing our thinking habits. For example changing negatively focused “What if?’ thoughts to positively focused “What if” thoughts.

  • Learning how to re-interpret our bodily sensations

  • Learning how to relax

  • Learning how to get the right amount of good, quality sleep

These tools and techniques once learned, become skills for life that enable us to master anxiety.

What Next?

If worry, anxiety or stress are causing ongoing problems in your life, give me a call me on 021 056 8389, or email tony@tycoaching and let's explore how I can help you develop the life skills that will enable you to master your anxiety.

REMEMBER - "When you change your mind you change your life."

 

 

Have a wonderful week

Tony

Tony helps individuals to harness the power of their mind to achieve success and well-being in life, work and business. Tony's particular area of expertise lies in helping people to 'change their minds' so they gain freedom from worry, anxiety and stress, overcome limiting beliefs and unhelpful habits. Tony’s solution focused approach to coaching uses a range of techniques drawn from the fields of solution focused coaching, neuroscience, positive psychology and clinical hypnosis.

Let nature In

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Monday 8 October marks the start of Mental Health Awareness Week here in NZ. This year’s theme is: Let nature in, strengthen your wellbeing – Mā te taiao kia whakapakari tōu oranga!

The goal is to remind us how our natural environment can grow, support and nurture our wellbeing and to encourage us to get away from stimulating urban settings and surround ourselves with a natural environment.

Research in a growing scientific field called ecotherapy has shown a strong connection between time spent in nature and reduced stress, anxiety, and depression. The research suggests that by spending more time in a natural setting we can reduce our stress level, and rejuvenate our mind and body and increase our happiness. Intuitively we know this. In a study cited in the book Healing Gardens, researchers found that more than two-thirds of people choose a natural setting to retreat to when stressed because, it made them feel better emotionally.  

Connecting with nature doesn’t necessarily mean we have to lace up our tramping boots. Our time with nature could be something as simple as sitting in our garden, strolling through a nearby park, taking a walk beside the river, watching the waves roll in on the beach, wandering through a forest, all of these activities can deliver the same benefits as time spent in the ‘great outdoors.

Did you know the Japanese have a lovely name for time spent in a forest, taking in the atmosphere? They call it ‘forest bathing’ (Shinrin-yoku). The benefits of forest bathing in helping lift mood is supported by research. A 2010 study published in Environmental Health and Preventive Medicine, found that participants who walked in a forest had lower blood pressure and levels of cortisol (a.k.a. the stress hormone) afterwards than those who strolled through a city environment.

When we interact with nature we, by default, combine the stress relieving benefits of being in a natural setting with the stress relieving benefits of movement/exercise. So we get double the benefit – how good is that!

If you can’t find time to get out of the office and into a park or sit under a tree, don’t worry all is not lost. Studies have found that:

  • just looking at pictures of nature can have a positive impact on our mood and stress level. In a 2012 study conducted in waiting rooms at a Dutch hospital, patients who were exposed to either real plants or posters of plants experienced less stress, compared to people who saw neither.

  • just placing a plant of some kind in a room can have a significant impact on people’s level of stress and anxiety. So perhaps pop a pot plant on or beside your desk.

How much time with nature is enough? "Anything from 20 to 30 minutes, three days a week, to regular three-day weekends in the woods is helpful," says Dr. Jason Strauss, director of geriatric psychiatry at Harvard-affiliated Cambridge Health Alliance. He says, "The point is to make your interactions a part of your normal lifestyle."

 

And don't feel you have to go it alone. A 2014 study found that group nature walks were just as effective as solo treks in terms of lowering stress and depression and improving overall mental outlook.

Remember, the key to managing your stress level is to introduce regular recovery periods into your life so that your mind and body can relax-and-unwind. Spending time in nature is a brilliant and simple, yet highly effective way of providing your mind and body with a restorative recovery period.

So let’s make it our goal to get out there and let nature into our lives.

What Next?

If worry, anxiety or stress are causing ongoing problems in your life, give me a call me on 021 056 8389 or email tony@tycoaching.nz and let's explore how I can help you reduce and control your stress or anxiety.

REMEMBER - "When you change your mind you change your life."

Tony helps individuals to harness the power of their mind to achieve success and well-being in life, work and business. Tony's particular area of expertise lies in helping people to 'change their minds' so they gain freedom from worry, anxiety and stress, overcome limiting beliefs and unhelpful habits. Tony’s solution focused approach to coaching uses a range of techniques drawn from the fields of solution focused coaching, neuroscience, positive psychology and clinical hypnosis.

Mental health and nutrition researchers seek anxiety study participants

Professor Julia Rucklidge

Professor Julia Rucklidge

Professor Julia Rucklidge, the driving force behind the Mental Health and Nutrition Research Group at the University of Canterbury (UC), is seeking pregnant participants for the latest study on anxiety and depression.

“What we’re doing at the University of Canterbury is studying the effects of vitamins and minerals –such as zinc or magnesium or B12 or vitamin D – on psychological symptoms. We’re seeing whether or not we can improve people’s mental health by using nutrients that are in your food but at higher levels than you typically get out of eating your fruit and vegetables,” Professor Rucklidge says.

Professor Rucklidge was recently selected as a finalist for the Women of Influence award in the Innovation & Science category for her research in this field.

“We are currently looking at depression and anxiety during pregnancy, and in the general population, to see whether a vitamin and mineral (micronutrient) supplement can improve low mood and anxiety, so if this affects you or one of your family members, you may be able to participate in one of our studies.

“For the pregnancy study, we are giving women either the vitamins and minerals or a matching placebo (which contains iodine as this nutrient is recommended for all women during pregnancy) – everyone is blind to what they’re taking – and then we follow them for 12 weeks to see what happens to the symptoms that they presented with,” she says.

“After the 12 weeks, everyone gets to try the nutrients which gives us the opportunity to also study the effects of these nutrients on the infants.”

There is also a new trial looking at the effects of nutrients for mental health, anxiety and depression in a community sample.

“We’ve been doing this type of research for 10 years, so we’ve published a lot of research. So far it’s been very encouraging. All of our studies are pointing in the direction that nutrition is incredibly relevant to mental health,” Professor Rucklidge says.

To register your interest for the micronutrient study for pregnant women, and to see other current studies at the lab, visit: https://www.canterbury.ac.nz/science/schools-and-departments/psychology/research/mental-health-nutrition/

To contact any of the researchers in the lab who are currently running studies: Phone: +64 (03) 369 2386, email: mentalhealthnutrition@canterbury.ac.nz

 

- University of Canterbury