Stress: The Fear Reflex-Fight or Flight
When man inhabited the jungle and lived by his wits alone, it is easy to imagine instinct being the dominant wit. Man’s instincts have played a vital role in bringing us to where we are today. Picture the scene; dense jungle, heat, strange plants, trees, bushes, shrubs and noise. The sound of animals near and far, living in fear of being eaten. Man walks slowly, carefully in search of water, then a noise off to the left. An immediate reaction, fear. And fear alone. Then a split second decision,-fight or flight. There isn’t time to get intellectual about it. There is a tiger. Instinct, as for any other animal must play its part.
In today’s rather different world perhaps instinct still has a small role to play. However, in today’s modernised world on the whole it is a different kind of wit that should, for the most part, come into play. We don’t see many tigers. The wit of today is of course conscious control. We are able to make decisions based on our intellect. If we want to get from one position to another the decision is challenging because we have so many ways to get there. It certainly isn’t a case of fight or flight. There are no tigers. Sadly, there are so many of us that live in the throes of this basic instinct, literally living as if there were tigers just around the corner. Fear, doesn’t come from outside of us but is etched in our very natures. This fear prevents us from moving forward intelligently, creatively or simply fulfilling our lives.
The effects are very real and aren’t just happening in our minds. It is in fact a physiological reaction to a perceived danger, which generates a huge chemical reaction in the body- we don’t need to list them here- however, it is clear that these body chemicals, expressed from the sympathetic nervous system, become toxins in the body and undermine the healthy functioning of the system as a whole. This leads to further stress responses, creating an ever repeating pattern of the fear reflex-fight or flight.
So having established that the fight or flight response is a basic instinct that is both a state of mind and a physiological reaction, the question remains-what can we do to rise above this unnecessary and outdated state of affairs? What can we do to make sure we are really dealing with stress.
It would seem wise to pursue a method that could address the two important factors, both the mental and the physiological and it may be that there are many. Using the Alexander Technique is, however, probably the single most practical and beneficent system as it’s sole aim is to bring mental and physical activity into our conscious control.
The important reality of the instinct is that it happens below the level of consciousness, so it follows that in order to change the fear reflex we need to become aware of responses that habitually happen without our awareness.
This word has caused some confusion, both Freud and F M Alexander (Alexander Technique founder) used the word at the heart of their work, however, whereas Freud corrupted the word, giving it new meaning, F M used it pretty much how it was meant to be used. In other words it means to stop!
Using the Alexander Technique we learn to recognise these instincts when they begin to take over and we are able to consciously control what is a habitual and unhelpful response. We must understand that even a knock at the door will ignite these instincts. You can imagine what happens when something really stressful happens. Repeating this new pattern of just ‘stopping’ or becoming conscious at the source of an external stimulus that would habitually create a stress reflex benefits the sympathetic nervous system tremendously. Now, we are generating much less of the stress chemicals that become toxins in our body which means that we are now experiencing ourselves with more of the good ones.
This inhibition becomes the new natural response to unnerving experiences and forms a filter so that even if we do have to face difficult challenges we do not let them poison our bodies. The remarkable thing about this is that without the usual tension and fear reflex we do actually become better at dealing with problems. We deal with them more consciously and we don’t let ourselves be ruled by out dated instincts.
It has to be said that this knowledge cannot help us without a very practical experience of stopping our reactions. There are many techniques that bring this kind of awareness but I do think the easiest and most accessible means whereby we can experience this is probably the Alexander technique.
Find a really good experienced teacher and ask them to teach you inhibition. In the meantime just quietly find a situation that you might normally find stressful and try to stop reacting to it. Try to consciously deal with it in a calm and intelligent way, once you have managed this, really experienced it, you will be well on your way to having conquered one of our most basic and destructive instincts-the fear reflex. Furthermore, you will be closer to being a conscious led human being rather than an unevolved creature living on basic instincts.
Copyright Nick Chapman 2015