Friday, February 28, 2014

Fight, Flight or Freeze and the Fox!

Today I'm going to tell you a story. Last summer while working from home I used to leave all of the doors and windows open at the back of the house. A small black cat arrived one day and after cautiously creeping through the kitchen used to sit next to my desk while I wrote. She was adorable, petite, with a glossy coat and white chin and belly. A tuxedo cat. She looked like she had been a stray, under nourished, her head slightly too big for her body, but a round belly as if she was now being fed. I'd let her run around the house but one afternoon put her outside after she stole a piece of chicken straight off of my baking tray!

Half an hour later I felt bad, I'd given her a small bit of chicken (a prize for being so daring – and anyway she wasn't my cat so no need for me to try and train her) so thought I'd go and see if she was still hanging around. Our back door has glass down to the floor. There was the little cat pressed up against the glass looking bigger than usual, fur all sticking out like she had been given an electric shock. 2 metres from the cat on the decking was a huge male fox. Now, I am not a fan of the city fox, scavenging through bins, living on Macdonald's and bits of kebab and looking like a party host for fleas and rabies. (I was also bitten by a dog when I was a child so fox is very closely linked to dog flagging up WARNING in my mind.)

My body went into instant fight, flight or freeze mode. I froze my heart rate quickened, I started sweating and my breathing became erratic. A split second later I decided the only option was to fight. I flung the door open and ran at the fox. He turned and ran 100 paces up the garden only to stop at the corner of the house and turned to face me. Definitely time to run! The cat had already done so and had disappeared inside the house and I quickly joined her. As I locked the door (Areyes just in case the fox could figure out how to use the door handle) my whole body was shaking. My mind started to process what had happened and the repercussions if I had not entered the kitchen when I did. Memories of stories about cats that were killed by foxes popped up in my mind.

I found the cat at the far end of the living room behind the television, I scooped her up and her heart was pounding within her tiny rib cage. 30 minutes later and the cat had recovered and as merrily cleaning herself in that completely focused way only cats seem to manage. I on the other hand was a wreck. My heart rate had still not returned to normal, I felt agitated and unable to settle. What do I do? She's not my cat so I can't keep her in the house but what if I put her out and the fox gets her? My mind is spinning and my body is very much still in stress response.

It was then that it hit me. This is how I used to feel permanently! Every deadline was a fox, every phone call a threat, my body was on constant high alert and the only time I really calmed down was on day three of a holiday! Part of me got a high from the adrenaline rush, each task completed gave me a buzz, proving I could keep going and win the fight. But our bodies need balance, time to rest and replenish after activity.
Our nervous systems can be in one of two states:

Fight, flight or freeze mode:
The sympathetic nervous system, which triggers your stress response and prepares your body to deal with a threat. When triggered it shuts down the immune system, digestive and reproductive systems, pumping blood away from your internal organs to your arms and legs to prepare you to fight or run. Blood also shifts from the front of your brain which is responsible for rational thought to your limbic brain which is the seat of the instincts and emotion, so while stressed we actually become more stupid! Adrenaline and cortisol are pumped through the body. Our heart rate quickens and our breath becomes fast and short to supply oxygen to the body. You're primed to move but if you do not physically take action you are left feeling nervous and on edge.

Rest and digest mode:
The counterbalance is the parasympathetic nervous system, turning on the relaxation response and facilitating a period of rest and recovery. Blood is pumped to the digestive organs, your heart rate slows and your body relaxes. It takes longer for your body to engage this system fully, three minutes to be precise compared to a split second for your stress response.

The system is designed to be self regulating but constant sources of stress and anxiety may lead to a state of prolonged activation of the fight or flight mode which can lead to impaired health and illness. When was the last time you felt truly relaxed, completely at ease in your body? It is not uncommon for people to spend the majority of their time in stress response without even realising. Fear not there is much you can do, below are techniques you can use to self sooth, to calm your body and engage your parasympathetic system bringing you out of stress mode.

The fear point:
On the back of your hand in the soft part between the bones of your little and ring finger is the point within EFT known for reducing fear. Tapping on this point with two or three fingers is like a natural sedative and tells your body that you are safe. Research at Harvard Medical School has shown that stimulation of selected acupoints decreases activity in the amygdala, hippocampus and other parts of the brain associated with fear.1

Tap to refocus:
Located an inch below the ends of your collarbones on your chest your K27 points can be tapped to again calm your body down and also to refocus your attention. A fantastic point to use if you are feeling overwhelmed at work.

Give yourself a hug!:
Use this technique whenever you are in need of comfort. Wrap one arm around your ribs under your breast and then wrap your other arm on top holding just above your elbow and give yourself a hug! This position allows you to hold certain acupressure points which calm your body down and give you an energy boost. Hold for a few minutes while breathing deeply and then swap sides.

Hold your head:
It is our natural instinct to clap our palm to our forehead if we don't know what to do in any given situation. As mentioned when you go into stress response the blood drains from your forebrain to your limbic brain and your mind can become foggy. By placing the palm of one hand across your forehead while your other hand cups the back of your head you are encouraging the blood back into your forebrain, hold these points until you feel a strong pulse in your forehead on both sides. This technique is fantastic to use when you are feeling distressed and if you hold for long enough (from a minute up to 10 minutes) you should feel more relaxed and clearheaded.

The above originate from Donna Eden's teachings, she has lots of videos on YouTube so check them out if you would like more information. 

Here is an article with some videos attached about using Donna's techniques with EFT.

1J. Fang et al. “The salient characteristics of the central effects of acupuncture needling: Olympic and Paralympic Nerocortical network modulation.” Human brain Mapping 30. no 4 April 2009. The Tapping Solution by Nick Ortner. Hay House 2013. 

Photo of Fox courtesy of Peter Trimming

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