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Leaning Into our Stress Responses

Everything on this planet has its opposite, and the design is quite brilliant if you stop to think about it. That constant tug and pull not only keeps things moving, it allows for choices, and an infinite variety of experiences and consequences.


I often hear how folks are trying to override the sympathetic nervous system (our impulse to fight, flight or freeze) because it seems to be stuck on “GO”. I can “sympathize” with that sentiment! We definitely need to keep it within a normal range, and there are great techniques that have been created to do just that. BUT, maybe instead of fighting it, or trying to override it, why not listen to and work with it?


In this post I lean into the stress response to see what would happen?


I think it’s important to note that the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems HAVE to work in tandem to keep our hearts beating and our blood pumping. It is what is keeping us alive.

When your body is in a lengthened state of fight, flight or freeze, what if we actually listened in a more productive way?

This is what I mean:


Fight- Just some examples- when someone is challenging your boundaries, causing you to feel taken advantage of -or- when someone is attacking your point of view, and making statements that you morally disagree with- you might feel the fight response kick in. You may find yourself struggling with feelings of anger, tightness in your jaw, or knots in your stomach.


To lean into this response in a productive way you may:

Use this information to see where you need to have boundaries

Understand more clearly what is really important to you



Flight- This response might kick in when you are overwhelmed, or burned out emotionally, physically, socially, spiritually, etc. You could feel like you are depended on too heavily, or like you don’t have time to do the things that feed your own soul. You may find yourself feeling restless, or trapped.


To lean into this response in a productive way you may:

Take time off

Really leave your current surroundings for a bit to gain clarity

Explain to family and friends that you need time to decompress

I have taken a two day vacation to the country by myself several times, and it is the best gift I could have given myself. Maybe you do need to fly. Even just taking time to go on a hike, immersing yourself in nature, or going to a meditation spa.


Freeze- This response could also be triggered by overwhelm. It could arise when you are feeling anxiety about a social situation, making “staying in” a more attractive option. Maybe you have a deadline that is lurking that you are procrastinating because it seems so daunting. It might also arise when you are trying to make big decisions that will impact you and/or your family, and you just can’t make a choice. You might even find yourself saying, “I feel stuck”.


To lean into this response in a productive way:

Let yourself be still and think. Really freeze what you are doing for a minute, afternoon, or day to think through your options and make a plan. Oftentimes we MAKE ourselves "busy" so we don’t have time to work on our deadline, check in with our insecurities, or make that important decision.

I used to impulsively clean when I was avoiding a choice, because it gave me the illusion of being productive.

The best gift you can give yourself is to stop and think of a few micro goals to get you moving in the RIGHT direction. Prioritize one thing you can do TODAY to get you closer to your goal, or your decision.


C.S. Lewis said:

"Progress means not just changing, but changing for the better. We all want progress, but progress means getting nearer to the place where you want to be. And if you have taken a wrong turn, then to go forward does not get you any nearer. If you are on the wrong road, progress means doing a U-turn and walking back to the right road; and in that case the man who turns back soonest, is the most progressive man"


I utilize meditation when working with clients, and I have recommended it when stress levels are high, so I’m not discounting coping techniques. In fact they can help you to process the correct way to utilize your stress responses. My goal in this post was to highlight a positive perspective to our helpful nervous systems.


The next time your mind is coming up with all kinds of reasons why you can’t do something that you know will cultivate growth, you could also try to:


*Acknowledge the response

*Thank it for trying to keep you safe

*See how you can use it in a positive way that promotes growth

remind it that YOU are in charge, and you can handle it




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