Fight or Flight?
Have you ever noticed how we tend to get as upset over the small things as we do major life catastrophes? We all do it, right? A friend and I were exploring this the other day, and what hit me is that in an evolutionary sense, we’re excellently suited for the big, life-threatening event. You know … what happens when we’re confronted with a saber-tooth tiger kind of thing. We’re familiar with the Fight or Flight response. When confronted with the tiger, our cortisol levels go up, our heart races to pump extra oxygen through our bodies, our vision is clear, our focus is sharp and on-target, and we instantly move into action. And this response still works well today when we’re confronted with real and immediate danger. And in that instant we choose to fight (can I muscle through and overcome the threat?) or to flee (can I outrun the threat?).
But what about the traffic jam, the project due, the software glitch? Not really life-or-death, right? Does our Fight or Flight response help us here? What happens when we don’t need to fight off danger or run for our lives? Without the physical release of fight or flight, heart-racing can bring us to a panic state; the sharp, focused vision can become tunnel-vision; and unreleased cortisol (yes, stress hormones) cause havoc in our bodies.
So what to do? How do we properly modulate for the challenge right in front of us?
Here are a few steps that I see work:
Put the problem in perspective — Is it life-threatening? Are we in immediate physical danger? (If we’re pausing to ask, then we’re not. OK, good. On to step 2.)
Bring down the cortisol levels so you can think more clearly. Physical exercise (even a walk), fresh air, a few slow, deep breaths, mindfulness are all great for this.
Problem-solve the situation or get help in solving the problem. (Contact a friend, your coach, an expert in the field.)
Increase your self-care. This will give you a larger reservoir of “calm and grounded” which will make it easier to keep the next challenge in perspective.