28 Jan 2009 - Story by Sifu Lawrence Hochobeb
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IT is a cruel world out there and you better watch your back and those of your loved ones. In this article, let us look at the unique way our body reacts to threats. The human body is surely a complex machine, which is adapted to cope as well as respond to external and internal threats and stimuli.
When confronted with a threat, the body's mechanism is activated and it readies itself for action whether to fight or flee from the perceived attack, harm or threat.
The "fight or flee response"Ã‚Â is our body's primitive, automatic, inborn response that prepares the body to "fight"Ã‚Â or "flee"Ã‚Â from perceived attack, harm or threat to our survival.
When we experience excessive stress and threat, whether from internal worry or external circumstance, a bodily reaction is triggered, called the "fight or flight"Ã‚Â response. This response is hard-wired into our brains and represents a genetic wisdom designed to protect us from bodily harm. This response actually corresponds to an area of our brain called the hypothalamus, which when stimulated initiates a sequence of nerve cell firing and chemical release that prepares our body for running or fighting. It is present in everybody.
When our fight or flight response is activated, sequences of nerve cell firing occur and chemicals like adrenaline and cortisol are released into our bloodstream. These patterns of nerve cell firing and chemical release cause our body to undergo a series of very dramatic changes. Our respiratory rate increases. Blood is shunted away from our digestive tract and directed into our muscles and limbs, which require extra energy and fuel for running and fighting. Our pupils dilate. Our awareness intensifies. Our sight sharpens. Our impulses quicken. Our perception of pain diminishes. Our immune system mobilises with increased activation. We become prepared both physically and psychologically to fight or flee. We scan and search our environment, "looking for the enemy."Ã‚Â
When our fight or flee system is activated, we tend to perceive everything in our environment as a possible threat to our survival. By its very nature, the fight or flee system bypasses our rational mind where our more well thought out beliefs exist and moves us into "attack"Ã‚Â mode. This state of alert causes us to perceive almost everything in our world as a possible threat to our survival. As such, we tend to see everyone and everything as a possible enemy. We are on the look out for every possible danger. We may overreact to the slightest comment. Our fear is exaggerated. Our thinking is distorted. We see everything through the filter of possible danger. We narrow our focus to those things that can harm us. Fear becomes the lens through which we see the world.
Let's begin to see how it is almost impossible to cultivate positive attitudes and beliefs when we are stuck in survival mode. Our heart is not open. Our rational mind is disengaged. Our consciousness is focussed on fear, not love. Making clear choices and recognising the consequences of those choices is unfeasible. We are focussed on short-term survival, not the long-term consequences of our beliefs and choices. When we are overwhelmed with excessive stress and threats our life becomes a series of short-term emergencies. We lose the ability to relax and enjoy the moment. We live from crisis to crisis, with no relief in sight. Burnout is inevitable. This burnout is what usually provides the motivation to change our lives for the better. We are propelled to step back and look at the big picture of our lives thereby forcing us to examine our beliefs, our values and our goals.
Our fight or flee response is designed to protect us from the unscrupulous criminals that hang about in the dark corners and streets around us, threatening our survival. At times when our actual physical survival is threatened, there is no greater response to have on our side.
When activated, the fight or flee response causes a surge of adrenaline and other stress hormones to pump through our body. This surge is the force responsible for people performing extraordinary acts in order to survive or to save lives.
The surge of adrenaline imbues us with heroism and courage at times when we are called upon to protect and defend the lives and values we cherish. By recognising the symptoms and signs of being in fight or flee response, we can begin to take steps to handle the stress overload. There are benefits to being in fight or flee response even when the threat is only psychological rather than physical. For example, in times of emotional jeopardy, the fight or flee response can sharpen our mental acuity, thereby helping us deal decisively with issues, moving us to action. But it can also make us hyper vigilant and over-reactive during times when a state of calm awareness is more productive. By learning to recognise the signals of fight or flee activation, we can avoid reacting excessively to events and fears that are not life threatening. In so doing, we can play "emotional games"Ã‚Â with our fight or flee response, "using"Ã‚Â its energy to help us rather than harm us. We can borrow the beneficial effects (heightened awareness, mental acuity and the ability to tolerate excess pain) in order to change our emotional environment and deal productively with our fears, thoughts and potential dangers. By its very design, the fight or flee response leads us to fight or to flee - both creating immense amounts of muscle movement and physical exertion. This physical activity effectively metabolises the stress hormones released as a result of the activation of our fight or flee response. Once the fighting is over and the threat, which triggered the response has been eliminated, our body and mind return to a state of calm.
Remember the theory of the poisonous snake. Take care and be safe.
Sifu Lawrence Hochobeb is the Founder and Chief Instructor of Namibia Wing Chun Kung Fu Academy. He can be contacted at: 0812782121.