Fight or Flight – Two Days, Two Very Different Perspectives

On Saturday, I attended a writer’s workshop entitled Writing for Health with Brenda Stockdale. Even though I have not yet read her book, You Can Beat The Odds, I’m still going to wholeheartedly recommend it.  She shared quite a few excerpts during the workshop and just those sections would make the price of the book worthwhile.  Don’t write it off as just another book of airy-fairy hope for cancer patients.

This book is not just for people dealing with catastrophic or chronic illness.  No!  In fact I think it should be required reading for every reasonably healthy American (by which, I mean people with an absence of obvious illness and/or disease).  In a very short time frame (less than 4 hours), Brenda changed my whole outlook on wellness, health and healing.

This bold statement is coming from somebody who already had a huge predisposition and momentum of belief toward most of the practices and the concepts commonly referred to as “mind/body medicine.”  Still, this workshop blew me away.

When I left the meeting room and walked into the blazing Saturday afternoon sunshine, I was filled with hope and excitement and purpose.  It felt like a thousand butterflies were dancing all over my skin.  Seriously.  My brain was buzzing, already excited to try some of the simple writing techniques she taught and also planning to post a glowing review on this blog.

However, this is not going to be the post I originally envisioned on Saturday afternoon.

I do plan on writing more about this whole mind/body healing topic in later posts.  This is certainly a subject that fills me with passion.  Plus, I can’t wait to explore the way her work and the clinical research/results she shared all relate to one of my favorite topics–weighty issues.

But right now, I’m going to focus on one tiny little portion of her presentation related to the infamous “fight or flight” response, chronic stress and the effects on the body.

Now, I’m sure just about everybody has heard of the “Fight of Flight” response.  In case anyone has forgotten Biology 101, I’m referring to the adaptive physiological response to acute stress.

Human being perceives a threat…. Adrenaline surges…and activates the sympathetic nervous system.  Heart rate goes up, blood pressure climbs, glucose levels increase, blood redistributes from the digestive tract to the muscles, and hearing gets more acute.

Generally, a psychologists will explain the physiology of the response then they will relate all of this to human evolution and prehistoric times.  Caveman obviously needed this response to survive.  Whenever Caveman needed to run from a lion or wrestle a bear, this response was incredibly efficient and effective at increasing the odds of survival.  But then most psychologists will point out that mankind no longer lives the lifestyle of the caveman, so actual threats where this response is useful are very few and far between.

Good news for modern, city-dwelling folks, right?  No more wild animal attacks so all is well?  Not exactly.

In my experience, most of the experts will tell you this adaptive response, which was such a boon to our ancestors, is now a bit of a modern curse.  Most of the time we are having this response to stupid inconveniences like bad traffic, mean bosses and the evening news.  With no one to fight and nowhere to run, this handy dandy little evolutionary gift just wears us down and robs us of our vitality.

Most of the time.

Until you need it.

On Sunday, I wanted to go section hiking on the Appalachian Trail.  After a whole week plus most of a Saturday spent mainly sitting on my butt, my body was craving some serious exercise. My honey, always up for a good long hike on a pretty day, agreed.

We looped around one short section for about an hour, then headed up another section to sit on a rocky outlook with a spectacular view of the nearest mountains.  I’ve been there once before, he’s been there many times. It’s one of his favorite spots in all of the North Georgia mountains.

For some reason (psychic moment maybe?), I didn’t really want to tromp through the weeds to sit down and enjoy the view.  I tried to talk him into enjoying his sandwich alone while I hiked on a bit further and came back.  He was having none of it.  We bickered.  Begrudgingly, with a grumbling statement about how I was doing this even though I was not wanting to do this, I followed him to the outcropping of rocks.

It really is a spectacular, magical view.  I was thinking that as I sat down and started to take a deep cleansing breath to get over my earlier resentment.

To my left, just at the very edge of my sight, there was a sudden movement accompanied by a dry, papery rattle.

I was in motion before my brain even registered what it was.

“Rattlesnake!”  I heard him announce behind me.

Not with a note of (to my mind) fully appropriate terror.  No.  He was fascinated.  He stayed behind and observed the thing, calling back useful statistics like, “It’s a really big one.  I’ve never seen one out here before.”

Well, super Nature Boy.

My modern, city-dwelling butt was already halfway up the hill.  Let me tell you something, that Fight or Flight response, it can be a beautiful thing.  In fact, I was so hopped up on adrenaline when I arrived back on the AT, I could not sit still.  He decided to stay down there and eat his sandwich from what he assured me was a “totally safe distance.”

I decided to take the dog (canines and rattlesnakes do NOT mix) on up the trail (which was what I originally wanted to do anyway).  We ran most of the way.  That is not an easy trail.  We were flying!

At first I was thinking, I’ve got to keep moving, work out this fight or flight, use up all my adrenaline.  Then I was thinking, Oh my goodness, I feel like I could run for days.  This is powerful stuff this adrenaline.  Today I am thinking, ouch.

According to the Snake Whisperer, I was gone over an hour.  I would have guessed 30 minutes tops, but he is the scientist and was the only one wearing a watch.

Snake Whisperer would also like me to point out that sightings of the Eastern Timber Rattlesnake or Crotalus horridus are not terribly common in the North Georgia Mountains and bites are pretty rare.  The Eastern Rattlers are not as aggressive or dangerous as their Western counterparts.  They are usually calm, preferring to stay still or crawl away from humans instead of striking.

Methinks this means the snake maybe has more sense than the Snake Whisperer I am dating.


2 thoughts on “Fight or Flight – Two Days, Two Very Different Perspectives

  1. ha ha. I don’t know how I missed this, but I’m glad I found it now. Funny stuff. I once was climbing up a hill and put my foot down about eight inches from a rattle snake who was sunning himself on a small outcropping. I stopped dead, no fight or flight for me. I was staring at him wondering if I should back up slowly or what. Before I decided what to do, he shot out like a stick, straight our from the hill, and landed about four feet away, and slithered away. So his flight response was in good working order, and I’m thankful for that.

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