What is happening in your body when you are faced with a situation that causes you to sit at the edge of fear recoiling again, or standing up in your own power? At that moment, a decision or choice has to be made. That decision will either be a conscious one or a subconscious one. Not deciding, is deciding to stay the same. It is deciding to FREEZE. This is a choice to remain in the frozen aspect of the Flight, Fight, or Freeze response. It is a conscious or subconscious choice to allow the Central Nervous System (CNS) to remain under the control of the Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS). This SNS is in charge of the survival aspect of our nervous system designed to protect us from things that trigger fear. It’s activation causes a cascade of hormonal reactions that include cortisol and adrenaline flooding our bodies allowing increased blood flow to the muscles making them ready to contract. These hormones allow you to get up and fight off your attacker, flight by running to get out of a dangerous situation, or freeze to hide and camouflage yourself to avoid danger or detection.
The other side of the CNS is the PNS, or Parasympathetic Nervous System. This system is in charge of secreting hormones such as insulin to digest meals, melatonin for sleep, and oxytocin during pleasurable sex. The SNS and PNS function to keep the CNS balanced. The observation I have gleaned from treating patients, is that many people live a highly charged, constantly stressed out lifestyle. They run on chemicals which might look like drinking coffee to get up, drinking wine to sleep at night, and then zip from thing to thing all day in between. They seldom stop, rest, or even check in with themselves. I have observed myself and others even eating on the move, hence the prevalence of drive through restaurants on every corner. Slowing down to eat and actually sit at table, and not on a computer or phone during a meal seems like it belongs in a bygone era. We, as a modern society, are addicted to doing, producing, and consuming. It greatly affects our health and well being. We have tight muscles that are ready to run or fight. We are frozen and unable to make better choices for ourselves. We just keep doing it over and over. Are we insane?
The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. People know this on some level, yet repeat the patterns daily, weekly, and yearly. The cumulative effects of constant stress add up and effect our minds, hearts, and bodies. How do we begin to change the pattern of running, fighting, and freezing? How do we bring ourselves out of this state of living in a contracted state of fear ruled by the SNS? We choose. So the question arises, “How do we choose?”
John F. Barnes, the father of Myofascial Release says, “Without awareness, there is no choice!”
We get to choose another way only when we become aware. Aware of what? Aware of our patterns. A pattern is something that repeats itself. Many times we are living in a pattern of being, doing, and existing. We move through life not knowing how we got down the highway to our exit, found ourselves at the fridge staring inside, or react the same way to the same situation time and time again. When these patterns start to break into our conscious awareness I believe they are trying to show us something. Sometimes awareness comes when we have a pain in our body, react with a painful emotion during a familiar situation, or when we hit rock bottom. We may ask ourselves, “Why does this keep happening to me?” I believe these repeating patterns are our subconscious trying to bring awareness to the immense amounts of energy we are wasting holding on to a pattern of sameness.
Flight, Fight and Freeze responses are meant for survival.
They are not meant to be the response to regular daily life. The subconscious is searching for a way to break into the light of your conscious awareness. It is looking for the danger to end and for a resolution. You get away from the house fire, you fight off an attacker, or you hide until the danger is gone. Then your energy can return to a steady state and you can come down.
THEN IT IS OVER.
Your nervous system can recover and bring your hormones into balance. Our subconscious needs to know the danger is over and the threat is gone so that the fear that alerted us can then subside. The problem is, when we live constantly in Flight, Fight, or Freeze mode, it is NEVER over. We can’t relax, we can’t sleep, and we do NOT enjoy our lives. We keep repeating patterns, we get ill, or injured repeatedly, stay mentally stressed, have foggy brain, and we get burned out. We can develop addictions, adrenal fatigue, depression, and even musculoskeletal problems. This is usually when I see people for Myofascial Release Therapy. They have pain in their bodies and they want relief. They are searching for a way to end the pain. What they fail to see sometimes is that to end the pain pattern, it will require them to act, think, and believe differently. They do not realize that there is POWER in Awareness. With awareness, we can begin to investigate our patterns, recognize when they appear and then begin to change the patterns if we choose. Many of us give our power away. We wait, like the “Disney princess” to be rescued by something outside of ourselves. This is called in psycology an external locus of control which explained is:
“A person with an external locus of control is more likely to believe that his or her fate is determined by chance or outside forces that are beyond their own personal control.” (alleydog.com)
This type of thinking gives too much personal power to such forces. It waits to be rescued. It is a victim of fate. It also takes little responsibility for its own state of affairs and thus this type of thinking offers the payoff of a lack of personal accountability. Investigating the sources of this sort of thinking are a great place to start with gaining awareness into the subconscious. I will offer some simple ways to begin to gain awareness of our inner landscape by bringing the focus off of the external forces, while redirecting them inwards towards the self.
Steps to gaining Awareness:
- Keep a Journel- Begin the habit of jotting things in a journal or take notes on your phone. Notice when you feel bad, angry, upset, feel tightness in your jaw, get a head ache, stomach ache or back ache. What were you doing, who where you with, where were you? What does that remind you of? What feels familiar about it? Write it down.
- Notice the sensations you feel in your body when you interact with others, and when you are alone. Do I feel open and soft? Do I feel tense and tired? Where in my body do I feel these things? My eyes, my jaw, my belly, my feet? Begin to practice bringing your awareness inside yourself. Can you feel your own heart beating?
- Notice your breath. When you begin to feel stress, check your breath. Am I breathing? Take a breath in. Notice where it goes. Notice where it doesn’t go. Breathe again. See what changes.
- Check in with a body scan. Begin at the top of your head and pretend there is a little you inside traveling down through your body. Take notice without judgment or labeling. What do you see, and feel? How does it smell or taste? What textures or colors come up? Can you find and feel your feet? Notice your posture. How are you sitting or standing. Can you shift your weight and feel a difference?
Awareness begins with observation. It begins with taking notice. A shift in the focal point will give you a different perspective. Give yourself permission to shift. Awareness is not a judgement, or the ability to label. Labeling and judging come from our beliefs. Our beliefs are formed when we are young and will remain in place unless we investigate them and ask again if we agree with them. People who lack awareness may say, “That’s just the way I am.” They may not have the awareness that they were actually programmed as a child by the culture, parents, teachers, and society in which they grew up.
Once awareness begins to appear as an ‘Ah-Ha’ you will start to feel the power to choose begin to build up inside of you. Your conscious awareness will begin to alert you to more patterns and more opportunities to choose a better way for you to act, think, and believe now. John Barnes says, “The purpose of our live is to enjoy our life!” Wow, what a concept. Another great place to start to bring awareness is to ask yourself a question:
“AM I enjoying my LIFE?”
If so, great! If not, what do you want to do about it? Make a choice! Remember not choosing is really just being willing to repeat a pattern. What will the cumulative effects of that pattern be in your life?