This lesson will take a closer look at the the brain’s adrenaline response to conflict.
In particular, we’ll discuss:
As you learned in a previous lesson, when we're upset, we feel it both emotionally and physically in our bodies. This is because of the amygdala, a structure in the brain which interprets stimuli as either a threat or non-threat, and initiates a fight or flight reaction.
If you remember, a threat is a stimulus interpreted by the amygdala as harmful to an organism, and the flight or fight reaction is a condition in the body caused by the release of adrenaline to prepare the body to flee from or combat a stimulus perceived as a threat by the amygdala.
This adrenaline response puts our body on alert and causes physical reactions, such as:
It’s important to remember that these are called reactions. A reaction is a behavior which is not consciously chosen, but is automatic and reflexive in a given context or in relation to a given stimulus.
For example, imagine you are in a conflict. The other person says something, and you flinch. You raise your voice, begin to gesture, and pace. These things are automatic reactions, and you may not even realize you're having them.
Rather than react in this automatic way, what we want to do is respond consciously. A response is behavior towards a given stimulus or in a given context that is consciously chosen.
The important distinction between a response and a reaction is that a reaction is unconscious, and a response is conscious.
There are some techniques that we can use in response to the amygdala’s release of adrenaline, and we call them relaxation techniques.
As you probably know, relaxation is the elimination of unnecessary tension or activity in the body or mind. It’s important to underscore that it's unnecessary tension or activity; you're not going to get rid of all tension.
If we’re in a conflict, we’re going to feel a bit of the tension with another party. But when we are reacting in unconscious ways, there can be unnecessary tension and activity going on, and we want to control that. We want to consciously respond in a way that quells the reactive response.
Thus when we talk about relaxing, we don’t mean just going limp; we mean a conscious way to respond to our reactive tendencies.
You’ve probably heard the phrase "Take a deep breath," and it's actually a very wise thing to do. Breathing is one of the first steps that you can take to control yourself when you are having an upset reaction.
Typically, one of the things that happens during the fight or flight reaction is that the heart starts to beat faster automatically. Slowing down our breathing can also slow down our heart rate since there's a physiological connection between them.
When we’re no longer breathing fast and shallow, which is what we do when we're under stress, we stop and notice our breath. Then we can consciously breathe in and breathe out slowly.
It will only be a matter of seconds before we notice our heart rate coming down; the deep breathing actually stimulates a nerve in the autonomic nervous system which physiologically slows down the heart rate. Thus there’s actually some science behind the phrase "Take a deep breath."
It’s important to do the deep breathing from your stomach. By inhaling in from your stomach, you can feel the breath coming all the way up as opposed to just breathing in a shallow manner from your chest.
b. Taking a Break
Another phrase you may have heard is Just count to 10, and that's really just taking a break. Sometimes we simply need to cool down; we might go for a walk, or tell the person we’re in conflict with that we need to call him or her back.
By literally stepping away from the situation, we have a chance to take a deep breath and notice more consciously what is actually happening.
c. Considering Verbal and Nonverbal Responses
Once we take a break, we can then think a little more consciously about some ways of responding verbally and nonverbally.
We can maybe consider lowering our voices because often when we're feeling stressed, our voices go up higher and get louder. Lowering our voices consciously can make a difference not only in how we feel, but also in the reactions someone else is going to have to us.
We can also notice our thoughts since the emotions we're now feeling probably started with some of the thoughts we've had:
This is where we can substitute a more positive, affirming thought.
In this lesson, you learned that the difference between a reaction and a response lies in the fact that a reaction is unconscious while a response is conscious.
You now understand that there are some ways you can manage the fight or flight reaction’s adrenaline response. These relaxation techniques include breathing, taking a break, and considering both verbal and nonverbal responses.
Source: Adapted from Sophia tutorial by Marlene Johnson.
Behavior which is not consciously chosen but is automatic/reflexive in a given context or in relation to a given stimulus.
Behavior towards a given stimulus or in a given context that is consciously chosen.
Elimination of unnecessary tension/activity in body or mind.
A structure in the brain which interprets stimuli as threat or non- threat and initiates fight or flight reaction.
A condition in the body caused by the release of adrenaline, preparing the body to flee from or combat a stimulus perceived as a threat by the amygdala.
A stimulus interpreted by the amygdala as harmful to an organism.