Tag Archives: fight or flight

Fight or Flight (or Flail)

No_Room_At_The_Inn

Hello, lovely reader!  How are you?  Yeah, I think I’m coming down with something too.  Do you want some Lemsip?

Last night was the Empty Photo Theatre performance Date Night, and I would like to take this opportunity to say a massive thank you to everyone who came, was in it or has listened to me wittering about it recently.  Also, thank you to everyone who has contacted me to say nice things about it.  You are far too kind.

For absolutely no good reason, today I am thinking about our instinctive responses to stressful situations.  In physical terms, the fight or flight response is pretty fascinating: did you know, for example, that under stress our digestion and immune systems shut down to allow more energy for emergency functions?  Me neither.  I’m so glad that we’ve evolved to be able to deal with a sabre-toothed tiger.  Our bodies are weird and wonderful.

Our brains are weird and wonderful too, but in a different way: our emotional instincts tend to mirror our physical ones, and when an emotionally or just cognitively stressful situation occurs, we tend to either confront it or flee screaming in terror (metaphorically, of course.  In reality we tend to smile politely and change the topic of conversation).   Most people would respond very differently depending on different situations: for example, the person who would calmly walk away from a bicker with their friend might pull a machete on their partner in the event of infidelity.

Having said that, there are some people who tend to respond pretty much the same way to most things, and we know about this because we have terms for them.  For instance, the people who would usually favour a flight response to emotional problems are referred to as “emotionally unavailable”.  (I love that phrase.  It makes it sound like we’re doing a nativity play, and the emotionally unavailable people are the innkeepers shouting “NO ROOM AT THE INN, I DON’T LIKE TO FEEL THINGS!” before slamming the door on an awkward conversation.)  Bizarrely, people who would rather fight in response to emotional issues tend to be drawn to those who would not, and the consequences are usually frustrating and confusing.  I know lots of outspoken, heart-on-sleeve kind of people (myself included) who are attracted to fairly stiff-upper-lip types, and that has yet to end well for any of us.

Weirdly, I think that that’s probably for the best.  People who would run away from confrontation need the argumentative types, and people who are easily upset need to spend time with those who are slightly less fragile.  No one has yet worked out a sure fire method of dealing with emotional stress, so we need to try to learn from each other.  If we balance out fight and flight we usually end up with a flail, and although that doesn’t sound very effective, at least you won’t be doing it alone.

Have a supreme Thursday.

You and Your (not) Stupid Fear

There is a very specific tendency among my generation to find parallels in the events of our lives with episodes of Friends.  Many times I have been explaining a situation to a friend, whether it be a work issue or a love life conundrum, and as soon as I say the magic words “It’s like that bit in Friends when…” the other person immediately understands exactly what I mean.  It’s a bit bizarre to use a sitcom as a semiotic conversational feature, but there’s no denying that it definitely works (with people who are currently aged between 20 and 30, anyway).

My current situation is no exception: I am now unemployed.  I am excited by the possibilities that my new freedom holds, but also very scared.  It’s like that bit in Friends (told you) when Chandler convinces Rachel to give up her job, and when she starts to panic about her decision and he tells her not to give in to ‘the fear’, she cries “You and your stupid fear!”  That’s how I feel at the moment.

I think that fear is a double-edged sword (quick side note – where on earth did that phrase come from? Surely ALL swords are double-edged; a single-edged sword is a butter knife!  Anyway): it can be an excellent source of motivation, but it can also demobilise you.  If you can be afraid of something and use that negative response to fuel an active stand against it, that’s wonderful.  But how many situations in life do we really and truly respond to with that kind of maturity?  For starters, it’s a lot harder than it looks.

The writer and lecturer Marianne Williamson said “Love is what we were born with.  Fear is what we learned here.”  I agree with that idea in principle, i.e. that being afraid is definitely a response that human beings develop over time, but surely as a species we have evolved to have fairly appropriate responses to circumstances by now?  The fight or flight response still applies to a lot of occasions in modern day life.  The original “Oh-God-it’s-a-sabre-tooth-tiger-should-I-run-away-or-should-I-throw-my-spear-at-it?” issue is not so likely to be the stimulus these days; in modern times it could be the split second before a car accident, or the moment you realise that a shady character is following you home late at night.   But the actual response, regardless of the stimulus, is pretty much the same as it was when we first wandered out of the caves and started making kitchen utensils out of rocks. If the response has endured, is that because we need it?

Lots of people (including me) endorse pro-active responses to all kinds of negative emotions: anger, hatred, fear and even regret (which I wrote a blog post about for Empty Photo not that long ago – you can read it here if you fancy) can be used for the greater good in your life.  But the aspect of fear that separates it from the other typical negative motivators is that it deals with the unknown: if you are angry, you know why; if you regret something, you know what you regret; if you feel hatred, it is definitely towards a specific thing or person.  Fear, on the other hand, can be as vague and wishy-washy as it pleases.  And it can be very difficult to be firmly and confidently pro-active in the face of something that’s so flipping nebulous.

So fear is a learned behaviour that we probably do need as a motivator, but actually motivating yourself with it is a tad tricky.  I’m sure that everyone has different ways of dealing with fear and approaching its possible solutions, and I count myself very lucky to know so many freelancers (in the ARTS, no less!) who I’m sure will have very inspirational and encouraging tales to tell.  That’s not to say that they are all perfectly fine and dandy all of the time, thank you very much, but I know that they are all braver, stronger and more ambitious people because of their experiences with employment uncertainty.  I hope that they will share their wisdom with me, and that even if we never entirely rid ourselves of it, that we can all learn to use our fear.

Have a marvellous Wednesday!