Stress: Fight or Flight Mode vs. Meet the Challenge Response

Stress: Fight or Flight Mode vs. Meet the Challenge Response

Does your default stress response go to “fight or flight” mode or “meet the challenge” mode? Ask yourself the question; are you anxious? Or are you excited? Most people believe that stress is harmful for us, that it is always bad and that we should reduce our stress to live happier, healthier lives.

In our culture we have encoded a default mode of responding to stress that is based on triggering our survival instinct no matter what the stress event relates to. We have programmed ourselves to react to stress in a way that produces an outpouring of hormones from our Sympathetic nervous system, every time we feel stress. The Sympathetic nervous system, or the Fight or Flight mode of stress response triggers cortisol levels to rise, blood sugar to be accessible for energy (aka weight gain) and blood pressure to go higher to perfuse the muscles we need to fight or flee. Our digestion slows down, and our immune system goes to sleep. We are not able to access creative problem solving or learning anything other than to feel the threat of danger. This may lead to anxiety or other stress related symptoms if we are routinely responding to our stress triggers in this mode.

On the other hand, when we train ourselves to be stress resilient, we are able to access the Parasympathetic nervous system, otherwise called the “rest and digest” mode of stress response. In this response we can see the bigger picture, creatively problem solve and learn or grow from our experience. Using this response, we access the mode of “meet the challenge” stress response. The hormones shift and do not stay elevated, no inflammation occurs or laundry list of stress related symptoms result. The meet the challenge mode of stress response is the result of using stress resilience strategies and tools based in mindfulness.

We do need the fight or flight stress response if there is true danger where we need our survival instinct. For example, avoiding a car accident or running from a dangerous situation. We do not need our survival instinct at the office when we are having a bad day or if we just blew up with our family member in the kitchen.

Most of us have hard-wired the “fight or flight” mode of stress response because that is what our culture models for us. Re-wiring mindset and creating new habits of stress resilience requires consistent training and practice. By learning how to “respond” to stress and not “react” to stress is a practice of living more consciously with awareness. As we learn to do this, we can evolve from our stress. The truth is that we stress about those things we care about, if we didn’t care we would not be triggered by our stress.

It’s all about the re-wire in how you approach your stress triggers. Anyone in Leadership will gain more success when you master your stress to successfully meet adversity and challenge without losing energy or going into drama and emotionality. Stress Mastery is a series of tools, teachings and practices that support stress resilience that I offer through my programs and workshops. Stress Mastery is a key training for anyone in Leadership.