Fight or Flight

Sometimes I look at other people who are dealing with crises and I think they’ve got it all covered and they’re acing life. When I am stuck in this thought pattern what I am failing to see is the process they’ve gone through to get to where they are at that moment. I don’t have a crystal ball. I don’t have the inside track on their reality.

The simple truth is that we all have a fight or flight reflex in us that gets triggered when change and/or crisis is unfolding. Our natural instincts kick in and, before we’re even aware of it, our body has made a decision for us. Do I fight, or do I run?

There’s no right or wrong answer to this question in itself. Circumstances will affect which option is the wiser for us, on the day, at the time.

We’ve all found ourselves in situations where, when we look back with hindsight, we would have made our choice differently. Perhaps we didn’t have the energy reserves that we thought we had. Perhaps we made an emotional decision without considering the resources we would need or the significance of the barriers in front of us. Perhaps we thought we were depleted but it turned out that there was resilience at hand that we hadn’t seen at first glance. Maybe we thought others were better able to act instead of us. We felt we ‘lost’ or failed at the time. The thing is, experience is a tricky legacy to live with. Is it of greater benefit to have fought, lost and learned a valuable lesson? Or is it better to surrender and keep our strength for what’s truly important to us? Not every circumstance requires a battle. Not every situation is lost.

The flight or flight response can also be affected by a person’s predisposed emotional reactions. This means that, where a person is known to react with aggression then it’s more likely that stressful situations will trigger an aggressive response. That’s what we’ve learned, it’s our well-worn path. Alternately if a person is anxious then this anxiety will be amplified by stressors. On any given day we may also be more or less disposed to either reaction.

I take the people around me as my litmus test for how I am reacting. If I am anxious, the people around me unconsciously respond to this and may endeavour to reassure me, or I may feel that they are overbearing or excessively co-dependent and demanding of my attention. If I am aggressive, their response tends to match mine and their reactions may feel out of proportion with what I think is reasonable in the circumstances.

The question is, how do we regulate our flight or flight response in stressful circumstances? How do we keep our response in perspective? This is especially challenging when our instincts, our learned behaviours and our brain chemistry are dictating our response before we are aware of what is happening.

My experience is that, today, we don’t. Learning to ‘survive’ is exactly that, a process of learning. Many people may have observed my own response to various situations in my life and thought “Wow, she really didn’t handle that well, did she?” or “Wow, how did she stay so calm and collected?”. I ‘survived’ under the circumstances and gained valuable lessons on how to respond next time. Next time, I responded based on what happened last time or the time before. I’ve found that it’s really important to skill myself up for stress when I am not stressed. It may sound a bit funny, but practicing healthy responses and spending time reflecting on my experiences is really important to do when there’s nothing going on. I’ve found that, without practice it’s impossible to find perspective, right in that moment, when I am attempting to respond to a crisis. *Note: A crisis may be anything from ‘I’ve run out of bread and I have nothing in the cupboard to make lunch with’ to ‘A close family member has died and I need to get the family together, the undertaker organised and find the Will’. Small or big situations still need a similar amount of practice. And when I mean practice, I don’t mean I do a morning We’re out of Bread Drill once a month, I mean practices that work for me at all times when instinct kicks in and I have to think quick.

How do i respond? Do I fall apart? Do I freeze? Do I act? Do I fight? The practice is to give myself the best chance of assessing the situation quickly and finding an appropriate response. Media coaches often say to their clients, if you’re not sure how to respond to a tricky question, take a drink of water. The idea is that this gives a person time to think and formulate a response without appearing to stall. ER doctors and Paramedics practice crisis response over and over again before they are even given the opportunity to get close to a patient. Practicing responding in life’s little, or big, crises works similarly. I don’t drink a glass of water, and I may not be saving a life, but I do need to take a deep breath. Literally and consciously, because I know I need to. It’s a strategy that works for me.

On days when I see people out and about getting it right it’s easy to feel gloomy and think I am falling short of the mark. The truth is I have valuable and valid experience and I have a willingness to participate and practice the skills that are needed to help myself and help others when things go wrong or when change suddenly t-bones me at life’s intersections. I practice knowing what my values are, I attempt with the best of my ability to respond with wisdom, compassion and grace. I accept that my best on the day at the time is enough to ask of myself. And I take every opportunity to learn and reflect.

Change and Fear

Change and Fear

My experience has taught me that often the fear of change in life is more disruptive than the change itself ends up being. The process of discussing this with my colleagues, mentor and my friends has re-enforced that I am not alone in this revelation. Over the many years that I have worked on individual and business change strategies it helped me to put in place a number of tools to minimise the disruption that fear generates. I do this so that I can get on with making change and succeeding in the face of challenges that I may not have chosen, but I must work with to keep progressing.

As I have said previously, my opinion is that it doesn’t really matter what context change occurs in, i.e. whether it’s in paid employment, unpaid employment, when we’re pursuing things we love, or doing things that we don’t like doing but we have to. My household admin comes to mind. The simple reality for me is that change is by and large a positive thing, and is the one constant in my life, however when I am busy or just barely achieving my targets already, change can seem like an unnecessary distraction to the work I have in front of me. I can be resistant to change because I feel pressure elsewhere. My answer has been to take a moment, not a big one, to focus solely on the change that needs to happen. Take a deep breath and understand what it is, what I need to do, and allow myself to recognise that all things can be manageable as long as we assess them as such and treat them accordingly.

Some questions I might reflect on are:

What is this change? (Am I changing the way I do something? Is someone else changing the way they do something and it’ll effect me? Is there anything extra I need to do?)

Do I know how to change? (Do I have the knowledge and skills to adopt this change? Will there be anyone to help me learn? Can I easily gain new tools that are required?)

A lot of fear stems from the unknown consequences of change so, for me, I take time out to assess these questions and reflect on them. This helps me put change into perspective. Once I have perspective then the fear of what is happening dissipates and I can concentrate on stepping through what needs to be done. I can be present in the process of adopting change and I can support myself through it.

What happens when it all goes wrong and I find myself upset or unable to make a change? Sometimes it’s harder than anticipated, or there are unexpected barriers that are beyond my control. If I can’t change them, then I need to change my approach. Often I’ve found that this is more about looking after myself than making any major adjustment to what I am doing from a process perspective. When things go wrong the simple basics are most important to me. I need sleep. I need a healthy approach to food. I need reflection or meditation time. I need other people and I may even need to ask for help. I need to step back from my emotions, acknowledge them for what they are and then adopt a calm approach to working through what is happening.




Do something nice for yourself

Reach out to others.

One of the strongest assets I have found in times of change is having built a network of people I trust that I can bounce ideas off. This increases resilience and helps when change gets tough. Always ask the question, “How do I make this work?” as opposed to resisting the need for change. If change will happen regardless then the way forward is to find a solution to the barriers that we face rather than spending time on fancying that perhaps the need for change may go away, or there’s an alternative to making a change. Most of all, I must have faith in myself and my ability to navigate. Self-belief is the fundamental asset that is required during moments of unrest. Believe in the outcome and half the race has been run.

Community Connections


Today I have the opportunity to reflect on how I am connected to my community. There are a number of reasons why this has been on my mind lately and I found myself this morning driving home and thinking about how connected I do feel right now.


Once I had this thought, it was immediately chased out of my head by another which was, “And that is even with my ability to push away parts of my life when I feel overwhelmed by what life is throwing at me…”. The thought of how richly I feel connected to the people in my life, and to the people in general who surround me on a daily basis, almost shocked me. It has been a long time since I have been able to find the mental and emotional space to actually think about positive assets and my connection to people and place.

These musings lead me to consider, “So, what is different today?”. At this stage what I have found is that I am open, that I feel space around me and that I have started to be able to clear some of the emotional clutter from my mind, and this has given me the opportunity to be more outward looking. The more outwardly I look, the more I listen to to the activity of others, the more motivated and inspired I feel. As a result, I am given space to be aspirational.

xx Libby