Flight Response

Anyone else realizing their flight response is on high alert?

I think mine turned on a couple years ago, and I have yet to completely turn it off. And now in a pandemic, I think there might be a good number of us who feel this way. With our flight response, when there is an imminent threat that can’t be fought off, we want to run away from it and get to safety as soon as possible. With Covid-19, we don’t have a natural immunity to this particular virus strain, and there is no guarantee that the virus is mild or survivable. For many, yes, it will end up being okay; but for many others who were seemingly in good health, they ended up in the hospital or dying. And this pandemic is far from over, so this flight response that many of us may be feeling might stay in place for a while.

This is challenging enough on its own. But we still face every day stresses. A rough day at work. A miscommunication between friends. A burnt dinner. These are common issues that we are more than capable with dealing with, but these problems feel amplified when our flight responses is clicked on. Our daily inconveniences feel like major disasters that are a threat to our well-being, so we might be inclined to shut down and withdraw as a way of fleeing to safety.

There are times when it is completely appropriate to withdraw and take some time to collect yourself. But if our flight response is triggered throughout the day, we often don’t have the luxury to hide and practice self-care. It is good to develop some coping mechanisms to help us check out for just a moment and then get back to the day. One that I use often is box breathing, which is when you breathe in for four counts, hold for four counts, exhale for four counts, and hold for four counts. This helps you regain some control over your thoughts and your muscles (especially if you are prone to panic attacks.) Grounding yourself by putting your hand over your heart and speaking affirmations to yourself can help focus your mind. Make sure you’re eating and drinking when you need to. Here you can find some other suggestions for anyone who struggles with anxiety: https://adaa.org/tips

I know it feels like the world is ending, and this makes our daily stresses feel like uncontrollable chaos. It’s rough. But when we break a dish or if the dog chews up a shoe or we forget to take the trash up to the curb, it is not a threat or a disaster. Get your breath, do what you need to fight off that flight response.

We aren’t going to feel this way forever.

Escaping

I debated posting this because I like posting thought-provoking blogs, and I thought this might come off as silly. But I think this is a worthwhile share that could be meaningful to someone, which is why I do what I do.

When life is tough, we often look for an escape. There are unhealthy escapes such as excessive eating, heavy drinking, oversleeping, and addictive drugs. There are times when someone is depressed they binge hours of TV or Netflix to distract them from the pain. But then there are the healthy, necessary escapes. They may seem silly on the surface, but sometimes indulging child-like hobbies can help us find light and joy in our lives when everything around us is shrouded in shadow.

 

I started playing Pokemon Go around this time last year. I had played some in 2016 and then quit.  Then last September things in my life that had already been precarious and troublesome had begun sliding downhill. So I redownloaded the app and began spending some of my free time entering another world where I hunted Pokemon. This got me out of the house, where I was tempted to stay because depression was setting in, and gave me something fun to focus on instead of spiraling into panic attacks. This may sound dramatic, but it’s true. An escape was necessary. It was by no means an all-consuming escape that was an unhealthy obsession but provided a much-needed break from the reality that threatened to crush me.

Now, I want to pause here and say that the hobbies that help us escape are coping mechanisms but are by no means a cure or answer to depression, anxiety, or other mental illnesses. Fun and positivity can help us endure day to day, but therapy and medication are what truly treat us to promote mental wellness. Please, do not see this as a promotion of fun and games over professional help.

 

I hit my lowest point in December. This low point lasted through March. It was so ugly and so painful. I knew that I wouldn’t be able to go to therapy until I moved to another state in April, so I just had to get to the next day. I started really delving into Pokemon go. I would wear a hoodie and take long walks at night while playing the game. Again, this may sound silly, but hear me out. There was something about obscuring myself in my clothing and in the dark from the people around me that gave me some of the power back that had been taken away from me. I was invisible. No one could find me and bully me. I was playing a fun game. No one could interrupt a good moment and attack me. It felt sneaky and exciting. I was still depressed. I had panic attacks when I least expected them. But I had these moments where I escaped, I did something that uplifted my soul so that I could face another day.  Then, as soon as it was available to me (just 2 weeks after I moved) I began therapy.

There were other escapes. I wrote a book (I am looking for a publisher!) My husband and I took a number of day trips on my days off to explore Florida (where we were living at the time). These were productive escapes, and much less childish. But sometimes you have to remember the child inside of you to keep you from becoming cold, hard, and bitter.