Fight or flight, it’s a term most of us know and likely have experienced, frequently or infrequently, throughout life. You may know it originates in our ancestral strategies for survival and that it involves danger and adrenaline, but it’s actually a more complex process and involves more than either defeating a foe or running for our lives.
There is a far less often considered, yet far more common third option in the “Fight or Flight Response”; FREEZING UP! This happens in nature too. The instant before a lion pounces on an antelope the prey animal’s nervous system will trip wire the Freeze Response as a final attempt at survival when other options have failed. This is similar to a temporary paralysis. The animal goes limp and the nervous system pulls its energy out of the nociceptors (pain receptors) to minimize the experience of pain, and slows the heart and respiration rates to minimize blood loss in case of survival. This gives the prey animal an opportunity to survive an attack.
Gosh it’s an intelligent system!
Once any of these responses are activated in your biology there are after effects, even from minor stressors, unless the energized nervous system has a resolution. This can, and does, have a lasting impact, which we typically refer to as trauma.
The real dangers of stress come from chronic exposure and incomplete stress cycles, as well as the frequency of exposure. In nature, animals (and our more primordial human ancestors) would encounter dangers and environmental stressors. How did they recover? Essentially, stress is a feedback loop and it requires a functional outcome in order to close it. Failing to do this leaves behind the chemical markers associated with stress triggers lingering in our bodies. What does that mean? In the case of the “Fight or Flight Response” it means a large surge of energy that expresses itself either in the output of a physical altercation or in a supercharged fleeing from danger both of which can help close the loop. In the case of a “Freeze Response” things can be a little more complicated.
If your boss is riding you at work, you can’t exactly stand up and knock him out just because you feel like it. Far more likely, you sit there and take the abuse even though your adrenaline is running, then it takes time for the adrenaline to run its course. In nature, when a prey animal does happen to escape from a predator relatively unscathed, it still needs to process the nervous system energy of the Freeze Response. Think about it; the mind is still running in a highly agitated beta brainwave state trying to escape from the aggressor but the body is on a totally different vibrational course, still as stone. A dis-integration happens. In the case of the animal, it will work off this excess nervous system energy by shaking. The vibration in the body releases the energy of the fight or flight response and brings the body and the mind back into alignment. It’s not exactly the same for someone sitting in the office after they just got told off by their boss.
We’re taught from an early age to tolerate stress without response. It’s considered socially acceptable, but ultimately is this a healthy thing? Ideally we’d have an opportunity to literally “shake it off” after such an experience, but instead we likely find ourselves breathing shallowly, shoulders raised and rounded, with belly clenched, to protect the vulnerable neck and abdominal regions. This is an instinctual reaction that we’re not often aware is occurring. As a result, we continue to hunch forward, tighten our abdominal muscles and our deeper core structural muscles because we haven’t processed the stress stimuli. It undermines our very authentic need to maintain harmony between body and mind. This is the nature of trauma. Trauma happens when we dis-integrate and we’re left with the structural and chemical markers of extreme stress, chronic or acute, just sitting in our bodies.
How do we get back into balance? Massage can help! It brings us into a state of awareness wherein we are more easily able to sense patterned movement, inertia from lack of movement, and pain in the body that we don’t normally register on a daily basis. This can be empowering for the client both on and off the table as they relearn to work with their bodies. Working chronic tension out of the musculature is a great way to trip wire the brain into deeper healing from stress and trauma.
Massage can also stimulate catharsis providing deep Emotional Release. Catharsis can be a useful tool for transcending mind to body stress patterning. This is often the result of realigning adhesed tissues in the areas of our bodies where stress tends to manifest physically. Stimulating physiological relaxation and feelings of comfort, care, self-value, and safety are incredibly healing tools for chipping away at the cumulative effects of chronic stress and retraining our chemical receptors for calm.
Massage is just one way to achieve this. There are many other methods for habituating feelings of peace and fulfillment. Positive affirmations, calming music, yoga, and meditation are all great tools to help prevent the onset of the stress response to begin with. Regular exercise is one of the best ways to handle stress. Stress, being associated with tighter more rapid brainwave patterns, resolves easily when we push ourselves to move our bodies at a pace that matches the speed our minds are moving. When we get our mind in resonance with the body again we can then allow the mind to settle along with the body during the cool down.
My ultimate goal for each of my clients is to help them on their path to happiness, peace, fulfillment, and self-worth in life. I find it extremely valuable to apply certain types of therapeutic, structural, deep tissue bodywork as part of a treatment program for chronic stress and trauma recovery. I often advise clients who are ready to change their lives and wish to experience the fullness and joy life offers to develop a treatment program in conjunction with chiropractic care and acupuncture. This allows us to address the physical results of chronic tension comprehensively, working the soft tissue, tendons, and ligaments, while encouraging proper alignment of the skeletal system. I also like to encourage clients to add counseling to their treatment while they learn to identify core values in connection with self-worth and for making action plans to make effective, positive life changes.
Healing is possible! It takes work but it doesn’t have to take forever. Blessings to you on your healing journey!