Going the distance

Hit pause when the fight or flight reaction kicks in

By Edward T. Creagan, M.D. July 25, 2013

Regardless of the the diplomas on the wall or the balance in the checkbook, everyone experiences that late night phone call, thorny email or knock on the door from a disgruntled colleague. The initial reaction to many of these experiences is to become defensive and to tune out what the other person is saying.

As primitive humans millions of years ago, we developed the fight or flight response as a survival strategy. A threat would start a cascade of responses designed to sharpen our focus and quicken our step to get away from danger. It's hardwired in us.

The fight or flight reaction worked to our advantage back then, but it can be a real killer for us today. So when lightning strikes, it's important to resist the urge to attack or flee. Instead, your first action should be to do absolutely nothing. Be quiet. Be still.

Respectfully listen to the message, and then simply tuck it away in the back of your brain for at least a day. Get a good night's sleep. Clear the brain of distractions. Recognize that this too shall pass.

Then reach out to a trusted friend or advisor for perspective. When we're in the midst of a fog and can't see the shoreline, we need a compass. So too we need to look for guidance when situations arise that confound us.

Another lesson from our past: We're not hardwired to go it alone. We need others to survive and thrive.


Edward T. Creagan, M.D.

Follow on Twitter: @EdwardCreagan

Join the discussion at #Stress.

July 25, 2013