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!
I see just about everything in my life as a teacher. When I take the time to look, most experiences and relationships have something to show me…but I’ve had a rocky relationship with anger. Growing up in a culture that did not really tolerate anger as a healthy expression, I never really knew how to deal with it. In fact, I would deny I experienced it at all. “I’m not angry…I’m disappointed, frustrated, tired, sad.” As a result, I don’t get really angry very often. Let me tell you what, last night I was angry! In fact, I was LIVID! The details don’t really matter…It had to do with my children and some acts of defiance. I have dealt with these things before, but something in me just snapped and I was DONE. In those moments, when I realized I was really and truly angry, I got to decide how to act. If I had opened my mouth and really let out my feelings, I would have had many things to apologize for later on. I decided to let myself be angry and I hid out in my room for a bit to let the feelings cool down. I gave myself permission NOT to work it out just yet. I’m not proud of the fact that I was triggered or that I felt such rage growing in my body, but I was proud of the fact that 1) I could acknowledge, finally, that I was indeed angry; and 2) that I could sit in the anger and wait.
After some time to process and an apology from one of my kids, I’m feeling better and ready to start talking about it with them. It’s a paradox for me as I think about it, I am actually glad that my kids get to see my human-ness. That they experience my anger in a way that’s not destructive or long-lasting. I need them to know that their actions have consequences and that they can be resolved through good communication and that I do, in fact experience pain. In the end, in my opinion, my healthy expression of anger and boundaries creates a more loving, connected and trusting relationship. By being open, honest and real, I avoid resentment and passive-aggressive tendencies. I’m proud to be working with my own imperfections and trying to show them what it means to be human, with all its chaos, messiness and beauty.
May your experiences with anger be the catalyst for greater intimacy and clarity of boundaries in your relationships.
I was given the opportunity by Massage Track to evaluate and review the benefits of their product. I was excited to receive it as I am new to the foam rolling revolution and I liked the potential for this product to achieve specificity that I felt was somewhat lacking in the traditional foam roller. I am a Licensed Massage Therapist and am, obviously, a huge supporter of soft tissue work. The work I do is technical and structural in nature… in other words…very specific. While I am also a believer in relaxation and stress reduction, the majority of the work I do is geared towards the alleviation of pain and imbalance in the body. Recently I was in a motor vehicle accident and came to realize that, while getting work done by my qualified practitioners is really important, when I am able to augment that work by self care at home, the results were much faster and more effective.
When I opened the bag that my Massage Track arrived in, I decided to try it out first, without reviewing the materials, to see how intuitive it was. I made the common rookie mistakes of trying to roll my spine up and down the track and it was quite uncomfortable! Ok, so let’s look at the instructions now and see if there is something I missed. I have to say, that the video was very helpful. I realized what I was doing wrong and corrected it. The best way to do soft tissue work is slowly. The video emphasized this with every segment. By the end, it was drilled in my head that if I wasn’t holding the position I was “wasting my time.” The only thing I didn’t like about the video guide is that they use different balls and sizes than the ones I got in my package. In a way that’s good because you can see that the Massage Track works not only with the balls they offer, but also just about anything you have at home, tennis ball, lacrosse ball, etc. For me, though, I like to see how things are done with what I have been given.
Once I got a better idea of how to use the Massage Track, I was able to utilize it much more effectively. I love how the track keeps the massage balls in place. They don’t roll around which makes it easier to get them where you want them. I especially like how I can get to my upper ribs (shoulders, traps) using the track. Getting direct pressure there is so helpful! (And uncomfortable!!) There are also directions for getting to the psoas (which I LOVE!) as well as working on forearms and lower legs. These areas have been a challenge for me to access, so I’m grateful for a self care tool that allows me to do so.
In the end, I’m very happy with this product. While nothing substitutes for the skill, caring and intuition of a trained soft tissue worker, having a tool that gives such controlled and specific relief is a practical and efficient tool towards my own self care routine. I highly recommend it!
I’d like to share some thoughts I’ve been having lately. The past few months have been ones of incredibly growth for me. I have been intently focused on some pretty important internal changes and the confrontation of some of my more glaring weaknesses. This has been painful, challenging work, but incredibly rewarding. Through all this I have noticed how hard it can be to sit still through feelings of discomfort. You know, that pit in your stomach, the itch in your mind that says “Exit stage left IMMEDIATELY!” That flutter in your heart that expresses your body’s fear response kicking in. Not knowing how to act, respond, think or speak. Have you ever felt this? Well I have been looking that dread monster, Fear and Discomfort, straight in the eyes and I am learning a lot by doing so.
One of the great lessons I have learned is that experiencing Fear and Discomfort can be fertile ground for profound personal growth. Our conditioning and our ingrained habits can become manifest when we hit this wall. I won’t try to tell you how to overcome your own fears. We are all different, with different anxieties, worries, strengths and weaknesses…but what I would love to share is that the perception of this experience can shift from “Danger” to “Opportunity.” When this state is reached…Stop, take a step back, take a deep breath and PAY ATTENTION. When we take a moment to think and process, new ideas and ways of problem solving come into view. We find the razor’s edge between reaction and action, the point between shrinking in fear and lashing out in aggression.
When discomfort strikes, May you find that space where it’s ok to be uncomfortable, calm and at peace. Much can be resolved when we maintain our center and act from this balanced place.
I feel the turbulence in our daily lives. Current events make it feel as if there are two choices in life. Bad and Worse. There are many times in my life I can remember feeling this way. As if the only choices left up to me are limited and, well, awful. I am thus left with the task of choosing which awful thing I want to experience. Sometimes this might be the reality. Sometimes it seems as if the only options are are hard; choices that make us decide which scenario contributes less to our ultimate suffering. More often than not, however, I have found that there is a hidden choice (or several!) This hidden choice can be uncovered by thought, communication and introspection. When we calm our minds and hearts, when we open ourselves to possibility, we begin to see solutions to problems that never occurred to us. Solutions that transcend the “bad to worse” mentality and actually offer kindness, compassion and joy. Hey, sometimes a stumbling stone is just a rock. But sometimes that rock is a stepping stone. An opportunity to get to know ourselves better, to get inquisitive, to ask more questions and seek deeper to find the answers.
Next time you are faced with a “lose-lose” situation, take a deep breath, clear your head, tune into your heart, and observe your situation as if from a distance. Maybe you will see something that was just out of sight before. Maybe that is just the answer you need.
Spring is in the air. It is so wonderful to look outside and see the blue sky. My daffodils are blooming and the air is starting to lose the bite of winter chill. It was such a joy to get out in the garden and start clearing the blackberry bushes. It got me thinking about how important it is to root out the invasive plants earlier than later. The plants were beginning to grow new leaves and they were ready to burst out in new activity. If I waited too much longer the mess would be twice as bad.
There is a valuable message here if we can listen. It is similar to “a stitch in time saves nine.” When we pay attention to our situation, our bodies and our sense of well-being, we are usually given messages to let us know when changes need to happen. If we act early, the changes are much easier to accomplish. If you find yourself with a large thicket of issues (like the blackberry briar bushes) don’t let yourself get discouraged. Just get out the machete and start. Today is better than tomorrow. Tomorrow is better than next week.
That being said…It is always important to acknowledge the times and seasons of life. Sometimes we genuinely don’t have the energy or time to hack away at the bushes and deal with the scrapes and puncture wounds that dealing with these issues causes. If that’s the case…relax into taking care of yourself and at least enjoy what you can. (Like the tasty blackberries!)