Two things happen when I am faced with a tense situation the way I see it; I have two choices fight through the feelings of anxiety or run as fast and as far as I can from the surfaces of fear.
I have experienced flight mode for as long as I can remember. When it comes to me personally, I will run every time. I only enter fight mode when I am fighting for others or with others, but if the choice is mine alone to fight or flight in a situation, I choose the latter each time. Now that I am older, I realize there is a time to fight and a time to fight. Flight as a concept has explained that if I choose to run, then I am a coward. I must fight everything at all times, no matter what. However, do you know what happens when you are a consistent fighter? Burnout. Just like being a runner all the time can cause you not to take a risk and not to stand up for yourself.
It is easy to say that there has to be a balance, but even for me, it took time before I could understand when I needed to fight and when I needed to fight. So, what do you do in the face of perceived danger, how do you ground yourself when you want to take off running, or how do you learn to walk away when you want to fight calmly.
Our bodies go through three stages when under stress, alarm reaction, resistance, and exhaustion. When I understood these stages, I could better react to perceived dangerous situations. Fight or Flight mode is a part of the alarm reaction; it is your body’s first response to stress or fear.
The key word here is “perceived” I started taking inventory of what I perceived to be truly dangerous. You can rewire your mind to sense danger differently and train it to act. After all, it is your brain. Think of it this way, if your perceived threat enters the room and you panic and flee the room only to find that real danger is waiting around the corner, what do you do?
When I was a child at school, the firefighters would come and talk to us about what to do during a fire. There were safety precautions to avoid smoke inhalation, and there was a procedure to follow if engulfed in flames. The greatest lesson I learned and applied to many situations is “stop, drop and roll.” It was interesting to me as a child that the firefighter would say if you find that you are on fire, the first thing you do is stop. Panic is the enemy, and in many cases, it will cause more damage than good if your first response is to react. The first thing you need to do is stop and use your senses to determine the perceived danger. It takes time and practice, but you can train yourself to do this quickly. As the firefighters say, the first thing you want to do in an emergency as important as being on fire — is stop. Determine what the perceived danger is and react in that way.
Listen to your heart.
When you enter fight or flight mode, something is happening inside your body; your heart is pounding. Once you have entered this reactive mode and perceived that something had triggered you, and now you sense that you might be in danger and realize that you do not need to react, focus on two things your heartbeat and your breathing. Through counseling, you can figure out what those triggers are. By this time, your heightened senses and your body is preparing you to react. Now you need to control the reaction. Listen to your heart, breath, and then respond accordingly.
Resistance and Exhaustion
Now that the perceived danger is gone and you have successfully overcome it, it is time for you to travel through the other stages of stress. Face your stressful situation; you may feel irritated, frustrated, and unable to concentrate. I’ve learned how essential self-care routines are to help me overcome stressful situations. Many times after a stressful situation occurs, counselors immediately bring in or recommend that you see someone, and that is because shortly after a truly stressful situation, you need to cope with your stress and allow yourself to continue; otherwise, you end up in the exhaustion stage. This stage causes fatigue, burnout, depression, anxiety, and decreased stress tolerance. This stage affects everything, your mental and physical health, and it tears away at your immune system and overall sanity.
Life is stressful, and there will always be dangers, but there doesn’t have to be fear. You don’t have to be afraid, and you certainly do not have to live a life of overwhelming stress. Stay in that reactive stage and determine what your perceived danger truly is because a stressful job or relationship is dangerous to your physical and mental health.