The Antidote to Panic — Mindfully Reducing Fight or Flight Response
If you’re hiking in the woods in Oregon and you see the glowing eyes of a cougar, will your heart start racing? Of course it will! The fight or flight stress response kicks in with a vengeance and panic makes you want to run! However, your life depends on getting a grip on your panic and courageously standing your ground, maintaining eye contact, and raising your arms to make yourself appear bigger and noisier to scare the big cat off.
Sometimes we meet people who are like wild animals. You might even work with them or they might be your family members. There’s no reasoning with them. They have mercurial personalities – their mood and behavior change in a flash. They’re so unpredictable you don’t know where you stand with them from one minute to the next. On the other hand, you may personally have trouble regulating your emotions, so little things trigger either an aggressive or defensive state. In either case, the antidote to panic so that you achieve more peace in your life is to learn to tame your fight or flight stress response.
Because so much has changed in our lives over the past few years, many of us are living in a perpetual state of fight or flight stress response. You just know that if one more thing goes wrong, you’re not going to be able to handle it! Things you normally took in stride now send you spiraling into panic and worse-case-scenario thinking.
The heightened state of fight or flight should only last as long as you are in real danger. Then, it’s supposed to calm down. When you live under prolonged stress, your body thinks it’s in danger, when it really isn’t. Being in a constant fight-or-flight state will eventually lead to many health problems like poor digestion, adrenal fatigue, obesity, insomnia, and anxiety. And it doesn’t do your mood any good either, so your relationships suffer.
The good news is that the sympathetic nervous system, which kicks in your fight or flight reaction, can be calmed down. The key to turning it off is to mindfully reassure your body that you are safe. When your body believes it’s safe, it shifts into parasympathetic mode, which signals your heart to slow down, your lungs to breathe deeply, and your digestion to resume.
How does mindfulness work towards reducing fight or flight response? Mindfulness can be used to develop greater awareness of your body wisdom — how situations affect your emotions, in turn, how emotions affect your body, producing body sensations you can read and learn from. Once you know yourself this intimately, you can use a practice of mindfulness to adjust your “dials”, so that your brain, and subsequently your body, feels safe again.
A good place to start is to practice mindfulness in these three ways:
1. Practice mindful awareness. Suspend judgment as you tune into your body sensations. Learn what the fight or flight stress response feels like in your body. Accept your natural biological response and give each sensation a name. Naming each one lessens its power. Reassure your body that you’re okay.
2. Practice mindful breathing. The situation may seem to be out of your control however you can always control your breathing. And that may be enough to get you out of the fight or flight stress state. Here are some breathing exercises that will move more oxygen to your cells and shift you into the “I’m-safe-to-rest” mode.
3. Practice mindful assessment. Discern the difference between discomfort and pain. Distinguish between unpleasantness and danger. Give your body the information it needs to know that the situation at hand is not going to kill you. It may be uncomfortable, but it’s not life threatening. Sit with and completely absorb the feeling that you’re safe.
When you give your body a chance to recover, you’ll improve your health and your relationships. If you’d like to learn more about mindfully shifting away from a reactionary response to a more intentional state, I’d love to walk you through this life-changing process. As your coach, I can tailor a program that works with how you think and feel. Why not contact me and schedule a complimentary 30-minute consultation to see if we’re a good fit for working together.