A fight, flight or freeze response is more common place; train your brain and reduce the hijacking.
Updated: Sep 11, 2018
Fight, flight or freeze responses linked to the condition of anxiety can be a debilitating condition. Also sometimes described as an amygdala highjack, the underlying process itself is much needed in the brain and body - having evolved over several millennia - to keep us alive... but these days it is triggered much more often without any real need.
In my experience anxiety and worry are two different things: the former is experienced as a fear of a perceived real and present danger, and the latter is a fear of something that might happen in the future.
With anxiety, this is when we experience the emotion of real fear without there being, in most cases, a real and present danger. It was designed to keep you alive in days of yore when there might have been an animal hunting you down. Your body goes into the well talked about ‘fight, flight or freeze’ mode, preparing your brain and your muscles, so you can either fight or run.
For me, symptom-wise, my palms get clammy with sweat, my armpits too, and sometimes you can see the beads of sweat on my forehead. Then I get even more anxious about the sweating and the whole thing can spiral. It’s pretty rubbish. Most other people probably don’t even notice it, but it is a soap opera being played out in my mind; and it sure feels real in my head.
Mine comes at three main times: sometimes when out socially even with friends, and as someone who many see as an extrovert, this can be tricky. When I am preparing for a meeting or a presentation, so called performance anxiety. And then I experience it with certain people, sometimes in a work context, perhaps when I perceive them to be more important or smarter than me (important emphasis on ‘perceive’ there). I have developed coping strategies throughout the years but it still feels pretty uncomfortable. Sometimes I have wished there was an emergency exit to escape out of.
In the book I read recently ('End of Stress') it talks about the effects anxiety has on the brain and your ability to perform optimally. It effectively hijacks the pre-frontal cortex in the brain and stops it from working effectively in those moments. This is the part of the brain that enables your reptilian brain to interact with the World in a normal, socially acceptable (filtered) way. When this isn’t working properly it is why you can’t think and process what are normally quite basic things to you, because your brain is fired up looking for that tiger!
Safe to say, that this is all very common. Most people experience it in certain situations. No one, not even the most confident or successful person is immune. It’s not that you’re not good at something or not able to do it, it is your brain flooding itself with stress chemicals that are designed to keep you alive in real danger situations; so you can think and react quickly. In most cases this level of brain preparation is completely unnecessary when you’re talking to a colleague at work or doing a presentation! When there is no real and present danger then this function is, in effect, misbehaving a little.
This is where mindfulness can help, well it has helped me. As I have said previously, this is just focusing on the breath and being aware of the thought or the emotion and taking it for what it is, i.e. not real. Just breathing through the anxiety with deep diaphragm type breathing 10x can slow the heart rate and reduce the level of fight-flight mode response in my body. Then I can think straight and perform at my best. This then builds confidence and I am able to reduce or remove completely those situations where I had previously been anxious. Try it yourself.