Friday, January 22, 2010

Response Time

By Amy Phillips-Gary

What do you tend to do when faced with something unexpected and seemingly threatening in your life?

  • A neighbor is chewing you out about your dog's barking or the volume of your stereo.
  • A piece of plywood flies off a truck and into your lane of traffic as you drive down the highway.
  • Your partner fiercely disagrees with a major decision that you have made and is making his or her point known.

In situations like these, do you tend react to what's going on without much consciousness about it? If so, you are not alone.

It is quite natural-- and part of our survival instinct-- to flip into a reaction when startled or somehow triggered. It can seem unconsciously derived.

The trouble is, sometimes our reaction only intensifies a situation that already feels out of control, uncomfortable or even disturbing.

Often, when we later look back on what happened, we feel regret or may wonder, “What if I'd responded differently?”

The difference between a reaction and a mindful response can be huge.

Do you usually fight or flee?

In times of stress or perceived danger, the adrenaline kicks in and people tend to go into either a fight or a flight mode.

Physiologists note that, just as in the animal world, humans meet intense and unexpected stresses by either readying themselves to fight (which can include defended-ness, hostility or even aggression) or to flee (which can include literally leaving the scene or dissociating and “spacing out”).

For those of us who have experienced abuse or other trauma in the past, the tendency to fight or flee may be easily triggered by situations that do not appear to be stressful or potentially dangerous to others.

Most of us have developed a propensity to quickly flip into either a fight reaction or a flight reaction.

Think back to a recent event that happened in your life that felt to you unexpected or intensely stressful. Do you remember how you reacted to what was happening?

Becoming aware of what you usually do can help you make desired changes when future situations arise. Of course, when you are surprised you might react before you've hardly had the time to register the perceived threat.

By knowing that you have a tendency to fight or to flee, however, you can catch yourself mid-reaction, calm down and make decisions about how you really want to proceed.

Choice-Supporting Techniques

When you find yourself reacting to a situation that seems out of control, unexpected and potentially dangerous, creating space for choice is vital.

Coming back into your body and your center or ground are powerful tools that you can use-- especially in those most stressful moments-- to create that space for choice from which you can respond instead of react.

Several times a day, take just a few minutes to practice consciously bringing your attention back to this present moment and to yourself.

The more accustomed you are to re-centering and grounding, the easier it will be to return to those states when triggers come up.

I envision my center as approximately where my solar plexus chakra is located-- midway between the navel and the base of the sternum. Other people bring attention to their heart area.

Simply breathe deeply and focus your attention on that place within you that is your “center.” You don't have to be exact; figure out what works for you.

Another option, which is called grounding, is to really feel your feet on the ground; focus on the connection that your feet are making with the Earth as you breathe from your diaphragm.

What is most important to these practices is to figure out what helps you return to your body and self and then continue to do it.

You will know when you are centered and grounded because you will probably feel clearer, more relaxed and better able to focus on what's going on in the present moment.

The powerful thing about being centered and grounded more of the time, is that you can almost always make conscious choices about how to respond to what's going on in your life at the moment.

When a stressful situation comes up, remember to draw upon this new habit you've begun.

Each and every one of us always has choice-- we often forget that as a fight or flight reaction takes hold. Practice coming back to yourself and your center or ground and make choices that will direct you toward the future you desire.

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