I would say most, if not all of us are in a constant state of flight, fight or freeze most of the day. We are a people of productivity and achievement. In order to constantly produce and achieve we operate from this lack and or attack state. There is not enough—Buy Now! Sale ends today! Someone has what you want—Sadie in the next office got the promotion you wanted. Someone is trying to take what’s yours—the mechanic, the repairman, the taxman. Then, there is the news about the world. Add to all that a crisis of any kind—relationship, career, health—and you are full out on high alert.
Now when I’m told, “Relax.” “Just breathe.” “Chill out.” It makes me want to punch somebody. What helps me is understanding. This flight/fight/freeze response is our sympathetic nervous system kicking in to alert us to any threat to our life. Its sole job is to keep us alive. It does this beautifully and should be appreciated and congratulated. But, if our life is not in imminent danger, then being in this state 24/7 has lasting negative effects.
Given our current conditions and situations, it may be impossible to switch out of this on-alert state without considerable effort and practice, but it can be temporarily interrupted and thereby give us some respite, if not some restoration. We can practice what religious cultures have been doing for eons; Take time to say grace. This very practical ritual of pausing and giving thanks before we eat is a precise trigger to switch us from our sympathetic state to our parasympathetic state—also known as rest and digest. By acknowledging the provision of food, the brain is signalled that there is enough and sends out the ‘stand down’ signal to the rest of our systems. By practicing gratitude, even for a minute, our brain gets the message that we are safe and sends out the appropriate information and we reap recovery benefits. If we eat a minimum of three times a day, then we have three opportunities for our parasympathetic nervous system to help us.
Anxiety is a actually our friend. It is calling us to the awareness of our obsession with lack and attack. It is asking us to turn our attention to and express gratitude for our safety and abundance. Isn’t that graceful?