Fight, Flight or Freeze
The actions of the Sympathetic Nervous System are designed to help us react to stress in the environment. That stress can be anything from a predator (threatening human or animal), a sudden drop in temperature, or the end of democracy as we know it. When this system gets triggered, adrenaline is released, respiration becomes shallow and rapid, digestion slows or stops entirely, the heart rate is elevated, and cortisol floods the system. All of these actions help our bodies to react quickly. The downside is when we get stuck in this reactive place.
In a perfect world, the Parasympathetic Nervous System kicks in to normalize heart rate and respiration and stop the flow of adrenaline and cortisol. We need to activate The Parasympathetic system to sleep soundly, take in new information and heal damaged tissue. So how do we gain control over the Sympathetic and Parasympathetic Systems that happen below our conscious level?
The first step in this process is gaining awareness of which system is dominant at any given moment. If you are having a hard time focusing, being still, or if you are taking short shallow breaths, chances are your Sympathetic System has taken control. The easiest way to find balance is to focus on an Autonomic Nervous System function, a function that happens outside of our conscious control. Those functions are heart rate, digestion and elimination, and breathing. If you are a very advanced yogi, you can possibly control all 3 of these actions. For the rest of us humans, breathing is the only function we can consciously control. By focusing on our breath, we can quickly calm the nervous system. So whether you are in a yoga or Pilates class or driving downtown during rush hour, focusing on your breathing will help you stay calm.
Of course there are more pleasurable ways to stay in a calm and receptive state. Walking in the woods or on the beach, petting an animal, or holding a baby (one who is not screaming). Even more effective is avoiding going into Fight, Flight or Freeze in the first place. Try to notice what puts you there. My triggers are looking at news alerts on my phone throughout the day, rushing to be on time, or projecting into the future in an unhelpful way. On my best days, I am balanced and calm, repeating my mantra from John Cage, “Everything is unfolding exactly as it should.” On my worst days, I fret about my 2 sons having to drop out of college to join the resistance forces. So what gets you riled up and what calms you down?
Let’s pledge as a community to support each other and find balance. Be active and organized so that you don’t try to change the world 24/7. Be kind, be patient with yourself and others, be a warrior when needed, but don’t stay in that place. It’s going to be a long 4 years and we need to stay healthy.
Stay relaxed and focused by joining us for Class and a Glass on Friday, April 7th! Type the discount code: COMMUNITY into the coupon code space to get this first class for FREE.