If you’ve read anything
about stress over the years you probably recall the phrase, the fight-or-flight response. It refers to your body’s preparation to confront or run away from potential threats to your well-being. Many experts consider fight or flight a response to perceived threat, whether it is real or imagined. In the days of the cave person, you either fought or ran away from the saber-toothed tiger when you discovered that you both inhabited the same cave. The earliest humans were equipped with an incredible self-defense system that activated when they perceived a threat to their well-being such as a saber-toothed tiger attacking them.
As a modern-day human you are still equipped with this ability to mobilize strength and energy to fight or flee, but you rarely have the opportunity to do this energy when confronted by the less life-threatening but just as real modern threats to your well-being. The irate boss, traffic jam, inconsiderate sales clerk, and excessively demanding friend all are capable of invoking the same intense stress response as the saber-toothed tiger. Unfortunately, you cannot always fight or run away from most of your modern-day threats (also known as potential stressors).
Also unchanged is your ability to deal with threats to your well-being through physical release. When you are under stress and your body has mobilized the fight-or-flight response, you are prepared for action. You are in a state that calls for physical release. You have the energy, your muscles are tense and ready, and your mind is alert and willing. When you act, you use the by-products of this response (blood sugars, hormones, muscle tension, and high blood pressure) constructively.
If you do not act and dissipate this stress response, it begins to exact a toll on your body, mind, and spirit. In the short run it makes you tense and irritable. You feel all wound up and are unable to sit still and focus. You find it hard to get to sleep and stay asleep. You lose your zest for living. In the long run, the response will lead to a decreased quality of life, inefficient functioning, illness, and breakdown.
Sometimes you can shut down the fight-or-flight response by using relaxation techniques that lead with the mind such as diaphragmatic breathing or meditation. Sometimes these mind-based techniques work. Other times they do not. Often, when you are really stressed out and all wound up you need more physically-active strategies to break the stress response.
This is where Release techniques work. Release is one of my five lines of defense against stress called, The Five R’s of Conquering Your Stress. Release, as a line of defense against stress, leads with the body, not the mind.
There a host of mild, moderate, vigorous, and cathartic types of physical activity and exercise that will release stress-related muscle tension and use up the energy mobilized to fight or flee in healthy ways. These run the gamut from mild physical activities such as Systematic Muscle Relaxation to cathartic forms of release such as anaerobic exercise and orgasm.