Updated: Jan 28, 2019
Now that I have your attention, let’s talk about the F word. Or, words, to be exact.
I’m not talking about the F word you are likely thinking of - get your mind out of the gutter. I’m talking about the stress induced F words that keep us in a state of anxiety and depression. The F words that keep us on high alert so that we can’t calm our bodies or minds.
The F words I’m speaking of are: Fight, Flight, or Freeze. Maybe you’ve heard of them. It’s possible your yoga teacher, therapist, or a well-intended friend have mentioned them to you.
These three words explain what happens to us when we are stressed-out, overwhelmed, or angry. We experience them when we are anxious and feel our heart racing in our chest. We also experience them when we are sad, lonely, or lethargic and can’t seem to get off the couch.
I’m not trying to blame or shame anyone who lives in the fight, flight, or freeze states. On the contrary, I understand it’s our bodies natural way of responding when we are feeling em
otions that feel threatening. We are programmed to protect ourselves by either fighting, fleeing, or freezing. Our bodies purposefully respond in this way as a life-saving measure.
Think about it this way - you are out on a hike in the woods and you come face-to-face with a bear. What is your natural response in order to protect yourself? Some of us might go into full-on fight mode and begin to kick and scream. Others might take off in the opposite direction as fast as our legs will take us. The rest of us will totally freeze and not be able to move our limbs to respond at all.
Now I know the chances of us meeting face-to-face with a bear in the woods are slim to none. So, let’s bring this down to a more realistic, real-world example.
Enter Target. We’ve all spent our fair share, and for some more than our fair share of time, at Target. Don’t get me wrong, I love Target. But somehow I go there for some rolls of toilet paper and end up leaving with a cart full of a dozen other items. That’s a whole other dilemma and it’s own blog post for later.
Imagine you go to Target with your two little kids, nieces and nephews, grand kids, neighbor kids (you get the idea). As you are walking through the isles one of the kids is throwing an absolute fit and is in complete meltdown mode because you won’t by the latest and greatest toy for him or her. The other kids never wanted to leave the house in the first place and is angry, over-tired, hungry, and a whining mess.
As you finally get to the register and are elated that you made it through with only minor injuries to yourself or others, you realize you forgot your purse (or wallet) at home.
How would you respond?
A few of us will be in denial and stand there processing the situation without the ability to respond. Others will start scolding the kids and go into fight mode because we have to blame someone outside of ourselves. We have to DO something and the only something available to do is to be upset. The rest of us will high tail it out of the store as quickly as we came in, leaving the cart and all the goodies we just spent the last hour trying to find, behind.
Fight. Flight. Freeze.
When we are overcome with stress, our bodies respond with the F word. We all have our natural tendencies to which of the words will be our escape. That tendency is a behavior that grows stronger each time we use it. Like a muscle it will continue to grow more every time it’s used, until it becomes our new normal and is there all the time.
You might be wondering at this point - what’s the good news in all of this? Why should I bother to even learn about these F words?
Because there is a way to overcome this stress-induced way of life, if it has become your new normal. It will always be there in case you are faced with a real emergency or life-threatening situation, but it doesn’t have to be your way of life, all of the time.
The good news is this: you can retrain your body and mind to respond in a more calm way. You can build your resiliency so that when life is challenging, you don’t kick into overdrive immediately and react without thinking. You can figure out how to patiently tell the kids it’s time to leave Target, apologize to the cashier for the cart full of items that now need to be returned, and calmly walk out to your car (OK, this might be a stretch but a girl can dream).
How do you teach your body and mind to be more resilient?
You can build your resiliency muscles through a variety of mind-body skills or techniques. Any practice that calms your parasympathetic nervous system and brings you back to your natural state of homeostasis, will help get the job done.
These practices can include yoga, breathing, biofeedback, qigong, massage, reiki, meditation, guided imagery/visualization, dance, art and more.
When you practice these forms of mind-body exercises you are bringing yourself into a state of relaxation. The more time you spend in that state, the more that will become your natural way of being. Even when faced with stress.
You’ve likely met those people who seem to stay cool under pressure and can handle life’s challenges with ease. Maybe you’ve wondered how they do it or enviously wished you could be more like them. You can. Over time and with practice, you can reprogram your nervous system to keep you in a more relaxed (read: responsive instead of reactive) state.
In the future when faced with a forgot-my-money-at-home crisis situation, you might find that you can overcome the F word that you habitually gravitate towards. Eventually your body will realize that you can save your fight, flight, or freeze for a true emergency; like when you finally meet that bear in the woods.
Until that time, find the mind-body practice that you enjoy. You will know you’ve found the right one when it brings you into a state of calm and relaxation. Then slowly watch as it begins to build your resiliency muscle and impacts your life in the most amazing ways.