The Mechanism Of Stress - Fight Or Flight

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To overcome the startle response and reduce stress

To overcome stress you may need to overcome the way in which your anxiety can spiral rapidly out of control after the initial startle response. One way in which you can stop this spiral of anxiety and stress developing is to actually be aware of the sensation of the startle response -- usually experienced as an uncomfortable jolt to the stomach. If you can recognize this immediately it occurs and then relax consciously, you'll find that your stress levels can effectively be controlled and there probably won't be any development of anxiety as result.

However, the problem is that if you are busy, preoccupied or distracted, you might not even notice the initial startle response, and by the time you've realized what's happening, your stress could spiral out of control. It's actually quite easy to initially control the level of stress and anxiety, but it becomes more difficult as the anxiety develops. Sometimes, such a high level of sympathetic nervous system arousal can take a long time to decrease, so you may need to relax for half an hour or more to get back into a state of parasympathetic nervous system calmness.

Relaxation is always effective but it does require persistence and some people actually become anxious when the relaxation that they're practicing doesn't immediately calm them down and cause them to feel less stressed. This lack of persistence can cause great difficulties, particularly if they resign themselves to the fact that their anxiety and stress is never going to diminish. In fact in such situations a person often resorts to negative self talk such as "I can't even relax, I'll never be able to control my anxiety!"

Another effective way of controlling stress and anxiety is to train your body so that once the startle response occurs you immediately react with relaxation. If you can manage to do this you won't have to be on the alert for the initial surge of adrenaline, because even if you notice it, your body will be conditioned to respond with the correct relaxation response.

It's a powerful form of stress control: an instant relaxation response to all types of stressful stimuli. And, more important, it actually allows you to control the level of anxiety that you experience. You'll need someone to help you....

You can do this by starting with quick relaxation (or deep relaxation if that is more appropriate for you) in accordance with the method described on this website, so that you are completely free of tension. Now have somebody nearby make a loud noise at any time in the 20 seconds after you ask them to. It's important that you know the sound is going to occur but you don't know exactly when. Good way of producing a suitable sound is simply to clap hands or slap a rolled up newspaper onto a tabletop. As you will know, even though you've been expecting this noise, when you're in a relaxed state you will have a startle response which means that adrenaline has been released into your bloodstream.

It's the constant release of adrenaline which produces constant tiredness and stress - the sort which seems to be uncontrollable. If you can actually intervene at this stage of your body's response you'll be able to live a much calmer way of life, with much lower levels of stress, and protect yourself from the distressing and deleterious effects of cortisol.

Back to the method: once you've responded with a startle response to the noise produced by the person who's helping you, make sure you relax completely once again. No matter how long this takes, you must be completely relaxed, you must let all your muscles relax, and you must allow yourself to relax physically so that when your helper makes the next noise you are already in a state of complete relaxation.

When you're relaxed, ask your helper to repeat the noise; you're looking for a stimulus which produces a small spurt of anxiety and arousal, not a massive response that would be hard to control. You want to achieve the lowest level of arousal which you can use as a signal for relaxation, which means the helper needs to produce a moderately loud sound without any prior warning. Once again use this noise as a signal to relax.

Your startle response will begin to be associated with physical relaxation in your body. You can aid this process by mentally repeating the word relax, or saying to yourself, "this stress is all going away" every time you breathe out. Focus on what you're doing so that you actually feel relaxation developing throughout your body.

And then finally repeat the process a third time: hopefully, if you've associated relaxation with the startle response effectively, the third noise will produce a much lower level of arousal in your body: this shows you are getting less sensitive to the startle response and that the conditioning response between startle response and relaxation is beginning to develop.

It is desirable while learning this process to actually train as above twice a day for up to 3 weeks, leaving several hours between the two sessions. You may also want to record on a tape or other medium a series of loud noises at random intervals; you can then use that recording in this training, and this will alleviate the need to have somebody helping you.

After a few days' practicing you'll find that your body is using the startle response as a signal to relax! At this stage you'll be well in control of your anxiety, although repeated reinforcement of the conditioning may be necessary from time to time.

This is only one part of a training program for stress relief; you also need to include positive self talk affirmations and keep maintaining your relaxation responses. If you have any sexual dysfunctions or problems, or if you find sexual interaction stressful, or anxiety-provoking, learning to relax totally can be very helpful.

On the next page, we look at the physical and emotional effects of stress

 


Home ] Fight or flight - how stress works ] Physical and emotional effects of stress ] Good or bad stress? ] When stress becomes harmful ] Beliefs that make you stressed ] Test your own stress levels ] Reduce stress with holistic therapy ] Aromatherapy and Lumie bodyclock ] Treat your stress ] End your stress with relaxation ] Reduce your stress with self-hypnosis ] Reduce Your Stress With Diet ] [ Overcome the startle response ]