Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Taking a Tiger by the Tail

Human brains are hard-wired to survive in jungles and grasslands. The Autonomic Nervous System (ANS), which is part of the Peripheral Nervous System, is designed to handle acute stress - such as a tiger trying to eat us for dinner. We meet the tiger and either fight, get away, or get eaten. One way or another, the stress is over in a few minutes.

If we  meet a tiger occasionally, our brains can handle the associated stress (if we get the recovery time). However, our bodies are not built to have tigers on our doorsteps for days, weeks, or months. When this happens, our bodies break down.

When you meet a tiger, your brain puts your body into a fight/flight state. The fight/flight state can be recognized if you know what to look for. Why look? Because, if you can train yourself to reverse the state, you can decrease the stress on your body.

Symptoms of the fight/flight state include:

  • Exercise: Even a 10-15 minute brisk walk can have an effect comparable to a tranquillizer.

  • Relaxation response: There are many techniques that can help you relax, and this “deep relaxation” makes a great contribution to rebuilding your resources.

  • Self talk: Say calming and reassuring things to yourself.

  • Calming imagery: Imagining yourself in a situation in which you would be calm.

  • Listen to calming recordings, music or voice.

  • Connecting with the energy of calming people. When stressed, try to be around people who help you rebuild your resources and avoid those who make things worse.

  • Go into predictable calming routines, e.g. something habitual that you love to do.

    • Pupils dilate to let more light in
    • Air pathways dilate to let more air into the lungs
    • Saliva becomes sticky so it doesn’t flow into the lungs
    • Blood vessels in the skin constrict so the blood can coagulate, therefore your hands and feet get very cold.
    • Blood leaves the intestines and goes to the skeletal muscles to prepare you to fight or flee for your life.
    • Heart pumps and blood pressure rises
    • Breathing becomes shallow
    • Palms of hands become sweaty

    One of the ten facets of resilience is the ability to self-calm. If you can identify the symptoms of stress and learn self-calming techniques, you will be able to reverse the fight/flight response and recover quickly from stressors.

    Some of the best ways to self-calm and replenish yourself:

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