Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Fight or Flight Stress Response

The fight or flight stress response is controlled by our brain stems. You may have heard it called the “reptilian brain.” It is called this because our human brain stems are equal to the entire brain of a lizard or other such reptile. When the primitive little reptile gets stressed out about something, the only way it can respond is to “fight,” leave, or to “freeze.” You may have heard this called the fight or flight stress response. This is built into our brains for our protection.

But as with all aspects of human nature, it has the capacity to go terribly awry. The “reptilian brain” is our most primitive brain and doesn't think or reason. Therefore it cannot tell the difference between real or imagined stress. Unless we move the situation up to the more cerebral regions of our brains (where we can think and reason), it will automatically react as if the perceived stress were life-threatening.

This can encourage some very scary or comical behavior depending on how you look at it.

People as young as elementary school aged kids have “reptilian moments.” Do you remember when you were playing sports, and during the heat of the game, everything seemed so dire. The poor unathletic types would often get a brutal tongue-lashing, and sometimes more, if they didn't catch or hit the ball in the right way.

Our young brain stems didn't know it wasn't a dire situation. It was just programmed to survive, by any means possible. “Fight” is the usual means employed in this situation. Since I was an unfortunate, uncoordinated soul, I would often choose the “flight” method for dealing with my stress.

As we grow older, our reptilian moments don't go away and certainly don't get any more sophisticated.
Our workplaces abound with reptiles. It can be almost comical when it's not so darn annoying.
If we don't learn to deal with the reptiles (because they are not going anywhere), we risk our own sanity.

I'd love to hear some of your reptilian moments at work.

c. 2009

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