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4 Tutorials that teach Raising the "Reaction Threshold"
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Raising the "Reaction Threshold"

Raising the "Reaction Threshold"

Author: Marlene Johnson
Description:

At the end of this tutorial, the learner will understand how familiarity with situations and preparation can reduce the likelihood and intensity of their fight or flight reaction.

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Is there a way to prepare for situations that we know we're going to find stressful? Is there a way to do that so that when we're in the situation we don't have the emotional or physical reactions that we fear we will have? Well, yes there is. My name is Marlene, and that's what I'd like to talk with you about in today's tutorial.

Let's start by reviewing why we have intense reactions, physical and emotional, when we find ourselves in a stressful situation. It starts in the brain with something called the amygdala. Now, the amygdala is a structure in the brain which interprets stimuli as threat or non-threat and then initiates a fight or flight reaction.

So the fight or flight reaction comes from this perceived threat by the amygdala. A threat is a stimulus interpreted by the amygdala as harmful to an organism. Now, the amygdala can interpret something as harmful when it really isn't. In other words, it doesn't make distinctions, and it doesn't look at the intensity of what it is we're facing.

We could be sitting in a board room waiting to give a speech, or we could be in the wilderness having a bear chase us, and the response in the body can feel the same. It's called the fight or flight reaction. The fight or flight reaction is 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.

So the amygdala here is perceiving the threats, fight or flight reaction, and we have these heightened reactions. So is there a way to feel less threatened? Is there a way to teach the amygdala to be less reactive at lower threat levels? And yes there is. It's actually called raising the reaction threshold.

Before we talk about raising the threshold, let's just review the difference between a reaction and a response. So, the amygdala sees a threat, and we'd like to respond consciously. A response is behavior toward a given stimulus or in a given context that is consciously chosen.

Unfortunately, in a stressful situation, we react unconsciously, and we don't respond consciously. Let's look at a reaction here. So a reaction is behavior which is not consciously chosen but is automatic reflexive in a given context or in relation to a given stimulus. So these reactions are automatic, and if you've been in a stressful situation, I'm sure you've felt them. You go on automatic pilot.

So how do we teach the amygdala not to respond in this way if the threat doesn't really warrant it? As I said, it's called raising the threshold. Let's define that. So, first of all, the reaction threshold for a given person or organism in a given situation, it's the level of potential threat necessary to trigger a fight or flight reaction.

OK, so it is the level of potential threat necessary. What we want to do is to raise the threshold so it's going to take more of a level of threat in order for us to react strongly. One way to do this of course is to increase our confidence. And confidence of course is a belief that one can engage in a given situation successfully by meeting needs or preventing loss and harm.

So let me give you a couple of examples here, things that I think are everyday kinds of stressful situations for a lot of people. One is public speaking. People have a fight or flight reaction to public speaking, physiological reactions that include sweating, and maybe they lose their voice, forget what they're going to say, heart beats fast.

So one way to raise the threshold here is to actually do more public speaking. A lot of people join Toastmasters, and it's been very successful in raising the threshold here, the reaction threshold when it comes to public speaking. This could also be true for new technology.

There's a lot of changing technology in the world that people are required to learn and know for their careers and for their jobs. And if you have a kind of fear of new technology, you might find yourself freezing or having the fight or flight reaction. So taking classes, actually practicing, getting a tutor, a mentor, this will familiarize you with the technology.

It'll increase your confidence. And once again, it will raise that threshold level so you do not feel these reactions that we typically have when we feel stressful or nervous or afraid. It could have to do with a sport, skiing, for example, or swimming. So what you do is stand up. You face the fear. You familiarize yourself with it.

And you desensitize so that the amygdala learns that it doesn't need to react quite so defensively immediately when you enter a situation like public speaking, or skiing, or using new technology if those are fears. Now, it also helps to prepare rationally because when we behave in a certain way, we begin to behave, it comes from our emotions, but the emotions come from our thoughts.

So we think something. Oh, I'm really going to be awful when I get up there to give that speech. I think I'll forget what I'm going to say. I know my heart's going to beat. I'll look foolish. Those thoughts spiral into negative emotions. We begin to feel nervous.

Then we stand up to give the presentation, and we began to sweat, and we forget what we're going to say. So it's this downward spiral. It starts with thoughts. It leads to emotions, and it leads to behavior. So if we can step back and rationally assess the situation, perhaps substitute some of the negative thoughts we're having with positive thoughts.

Visualize ourselves doing a good job. Practice. Those things all will desensitize us to the situation that we're finding stressful and raise the reaction threshold. Well, I've enjoyed being part of this tutorial, and I look forward to seeing you next time.

TERMS TO KNOW
  • Amygdala

    A structure in the brain which interprets stimuli as threat or non- threat and initiates fight or flight reaction.

  • 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.

  • Threat

    A stimulus interpreted by the amygdala as harmful to an organism.

  • Reaction

    Behavior which is not consciously chosen but is automatic/reflexive in a given context or in relation to a given stimulus.

  • Response

    Behavior towards a given stimulus or in a given context that is consciously chosen.

  • Reaction Threshold

    For a given person/organism in a given situation, the level of potential threat necessary to trigger a fight/flight reaction.

  • Confidence

    A belief that one can engage in a given situation successfully (e.g. by meeting needs or preventing loss/harm).