Overcoming 'flight or flight' - How to escape living in a state of anxiety
Flight mode is our Sympathetic nervous system kicking into action, 'accelerating your car' - and Fight mode is the Parasympathetic system, which 'hits the brakes hard'. Two key nervous systems are acting against each other, so that neither is functioning well. We call this Sympathetic Dominance, as the flight instinct over-rides the functioning of the body's rest and repair processes. It results in stressed, anxious exhausted people... and we want to help!
Is your body on high alert all the time? Do you feel stressed? Are you even aware of being stressed, or has it come to feel normal to be anxious?
We are living in high stress times - and being stuck in a ‘fight or flight response’ is impacting more and more people globally. Living in a state of fear and anxiety can lead to physical consequences including high blood pressure, tension or migraine headaches, fibromyalgia to name but a few - as well as feeling tense, unhappy or depressed.
It's exhausting and uncomfortable to spend so much time in a state of high alert and we see so many people who aren’t even aware of being stressed, tense and anxious because it’s become a normal feeling for them - but it’s not healthy; and it’s not fun!!
Suna Pilates Studio owner and Director of Holistic Health, Susie Cleland, helped us understand what happens to our bodies when we are under stress for too long, and what we can do about it.
What is fight-or-flight mode?
The Fight, Flight, Freeze response is a physiological reaction that occurs in response to a perceived harmful event, attack, or survival threat. Fight or Flight is an ancient, automatic, instinctive response to danger which prepares your body to either fight back, or to run away. Freeze is a more 'modern' response - more on that later!
Luckily not many of us experience life and death situations as often as our distant ancestors did - but our bodies are still hardwired by evolution to react in the same way to a perceived ‘threat’ or stressful situation - we either speed up everything; or we prioritise strength for the fight, which stops body functions and repair. Neither response is good for our bodies in the long term.
'Fight or flight' is designed to be a short term reaction to danger
We live in a culture that glorifies a kind of lifestyle that creates Sympathetic Dominance, prioritising our Sympathetic nervous system and the 'Flight' reaction. Long term Sympathetic Dominance occurs when 'life is super busy' and you rush around as fast as you can, multitasking and getting more and more stressed out. You rush to get the kids to school, or you think of a stressful situation at work that you have to deal with, you rush to cook dinner, you stress about finances, you rush to work or appointments… We've been trained to think that "busy" is good and normal - but when you just accelerate through life, this state of over extension or 'Flight' becomes your norm.
The Para-Sympathetic mode (Rest and Relax) is your brake – it stops body functions to prioritise strength (for the fight). So if you need to digest, rest or sleep, or if you need to repair things such as gut issues - and your body isn't working in the Parasympathetic mode, you won’t repair as well as you could.
Often the things we 'do to rest' are not actually restful things. When it’s dark and we are looking at devices with bright LED screens, it actually wakes up the brain, telling us that it's morning - so we can’t get into our Para-sympathetic mode to rest and repair. People often think that smashing out an intense exercise class like Crossfit, or going jogging relaxes them, but these jolt-start the Sympathetic system, provoking the flight response internally.
What about Freeze? Paralysis mode is how a lot of us live, after being in a state of fight or flight for too long. The analogy for this is the possum in the car's headlights! This is when you are in a rut, you avoid making decisions, you feel you can’t help yourself, you may self-medicate with alcohol or prescription drugs, or do things to numb the mind like using social media or watching endless TV - you just don't take steps to fix what isn’t right in your life.
"The issue is that if you choose to remain unchanged, you will be presented with the same challenges, the same routine, the same storms, the same situations, until you learn from them - until you love yourself enough to choose change!"
What happens when you live in Fight or Flight mode?
When Sympathetic Dominance is a way of life, some pretty negative things can happen.
Imagine car running low on petrol so you turn off the air-conditioning to save petrol, or the battery is low so you turn off your headlights. Your body is clever. If you are in flight mode, your autonomic nervous system kicks into survival mode and starts thinking what systems and processes it can survive without. This system runs your body without you having to think about it, helping you digest food, keeping your heart beating, you breathing.
And guess what shuts down?
Your body says “I don’t need to procreate, I can survive without this” so it switches that part of the body off while you are living in fight or flight. Your hormonal levels might change or your reproductive system might start doing unusual things.
And then your body starts switching off important things like digestion, as you don’t have enough energy, and it needs to get it from somewhere. Imagine what sort of state your body must be in to think that digestion isn’t a requirement or isn’t important.
If you're lacking energy and you get cold, your body starts shutting down the blood supply so that your main body functions can keep going.
The function of the autonomic nervous system is to keep you alive, so when your body is in a state of Sympathetic Dominance, it simply shuts down what it deems less necessary for survival.
Add to this that your Para-sympathetic system isn't working to rest or repair your body ... and then everything really starts falling down.
So, how can you free your body from long term Sympathetic Dominance?
It’s an indication that you have been in Sympathetic Dominance overdrive for too long, when you have had the accelerator down so long that you are out of gas, and starting to shut off systems. You may feel stressed, anxious, drained, tired, 'flat' and find daily life emotionally exhausting.
You might be surprised to rediscover your natural state - and there are lots of things you can do!
Check in with yourself.
The first step to recovering your balance is recognising how you feel, and being aware of it. Listen to your body, and understand the pressure you are putting on your body with your thoughts and lifestyle. There are legitimate reasons for how you feel.
Prioritise you and your needs.
Prioritise rest, 'relaxation time' and sleep.
Practice being aware of your habits
Watch this video with Susie for insights!
Practice self love through being kind and caring to yourself.
Listen carefully to your inner voice and how you speak to yourself. Be active in using kind words and being more compassionate to yourself. Do things that make you happy, just because they make you happy.
Look at active relaxation, meditation and mindful exercise like Pilates.
Mindfulness is a surefire way to halt the 'Sympathetic' freight train and Pilates is the ultimate Mindful Exercise.
Ask us about Blocking - it's not what you think!
Blocking is a technique you can also do at home, once a day, for 15 minutes and it will help you get out of fight or flight. we have blocks for sale and will be happy to talk you through how to use them.
Definitely book in for your own Kinesiology session!
The quickest fix for Sympathetic Dominance and being 'stuck' in a a state of Flight or Flight is to come in and get a balance using muscle testing and Kinesiology. We can hit the 'reset switch' and get your body back in balance so that you can function at 100%. You will find the challenges of life so much less intimidating and stressful if your body is in a state of balance.
Want to know more about Kinesiology? It's all here.
We're here to help - just reach out!