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 key to survival. 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. A man strolls, carefully searching for 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. The fear reflex! Fight or flight.
Constructive Conscious control
In today’s somewhat different world, instinct may still have a minor role. However, in today’s modernistic world, it is a different kind of wit that should, for the most part, come into play. We see few tigers. The absolute clarity in today’s world is constructive conscious control. We can make decisions based on our intellect. If we want to get from one position to another, the decision is challenging because we have many ways to get there. It certainly isn’t a case of fight or flight. There are no tigers. Sadly, so many of us 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 but has, over time, become etched in our very natures. This fear prevents us from moving forward intelligently, creatively or simply fulfilling our lives.
The effects are genuine and aren’t just happening in our minds. For example, we suffer a physiological reaction to a perceived danger, which generates a natural chemical response in the body. However, adrenaline and cortisol become toxic in the body. These body chemicals, expressed by the sympathetic nervous system, harm the body and undermine the system’s healthy functioning, leading to different stress responses. As a result, we are in an endless cycle of an ever-repeating pattern of ‘the fear reflex’-fight or flight.
On dealing with instinct.
The fight or flight response is a basic instinct that is both a state of mind and a physiological reaction, which might still serve us well in certain situations. But we want to respond to only some concerns in this way. So what can we do to ensure the fear reflex does not drive us? It is wise to pursue a method that addresses the two critical factors, mental and physiological, and there may be many.
The Alexander Technique is the most practical and beneficent system as it aims to bring mental and physical activity into our conscious control. We must be clear about instinct because it happens below the level of consciousness. To change the fear reflex, we need to become aware of responses that habitually occur without our awareness. We must become more aware of how we react to a given situation. Then we can respond in a way that better reflects our position-no tigers.
This word has caused some confusion; Freud and F M Alexander (Alexander Technique founder) used it at the heart of their work. However, whereas Freud corrupted the word, giving it a new meaning,
F M used it more straightforwardly. Simply put, inhibition means to stop.
Using the Alexander Technique, we learn to recognise these instincts or stress responses when they take over. As a result, we can consciously control unhelpful and habitual responses. We must understand that even a knock at the door will ignite these fear 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 usually and habitually create a stress reflex greatly benefits the sympathetic nervous system. Now, we are generating far fewer stress chemicals that would otherwise become toxins in our bodies, which means that we are currently experiencing ourselves with more of the good ones.
This inhibition becomes the new natural response to unnerving experiences. It (inhibition) forms a filter so that even if we do face complex challenges, we do not let them poison our bodies. The remarkable thing about this is that without the usual tension and fear reflex, we become better at dealing with problems. We deal with them more consciously, so we don’t become overwhelmed by unuseful instincts.
This knowledge cannot help us without practical experience in stopping and controlling our reactions. Many techniques bring this kind of awareness, but I think the most straightforward and accessible means whereby we can experience this is probably the Alexander technique.
Find an experienced teacher and ask them to teach you inhibition. In the meantime, quietly find a situation that you might typically find stressful and try to stop reacting to it. Instead, try to deal with it calmly and intelligently consciously. Once you have managed this and 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 an aware, more conscious human than an unevolved creature, just living on basic instincts.
Copyright Nick Chapman 2023