For the better part of the last 12 months I have been in constant fight or flight mode. It wasn’t one specific situation, but a sequence of events, over a period of time that changed my physical body and my mental state. COVID was the catalyst that amplified a lot of trauma in my son’s life, therefore mine.
He has suffered from depression, anxiety and other things since he was in elementary school. Add in a concussion during soccer practice, and then a year of online school and inability to create social connections…it was a recipe for disaster, and disaster hit.
I won’t get into all the details but, there were ambulance rides in the middle of the night, knocks on the door from emergency services, multiple trips to Children’s Hospital and more. More nights than not, from August 2021 to early June 2022 I got about 2 hours of straight sleep at a time. The rest of the night was spent wide awake after a jolt of, “where is he”, “what was that noise”, “let me see if he texted me”, only to fall asleep at about 4:30am and hope that I would be able to function at the gym when I had to get up 30 minutes later.
After a period of a week or a few weeks of “calm”, another knock on the door, or phone call in the middle of the night.. and the fight or flight was back in full force. The reinforcement began and my amygdala hijacked my life.
Constant Fight or Flight Mode Enabled
It turned into stress about a lot of other things, outside of my son. My amygdala was searching, desperately, for things to jolt me awake with because this fight or flight thing was making it stronger.
I have a client that wants to lose weight and had mentioned that she enjoys going to Chik fil A . I would wake up stressed and going over and over in my mind ways to help her stop going there. Nothing we were working on, she didn’t need to stop going there, my amygdala just decided that it was important at 3am. I have another client that wants to lose weight badly and she is making progress but is down on herself. I would wake up stressed about how to get through to her and the answer must be found at 2:12am. Every night. Different stress, same result.
Asleep, then turning over, then wide awake. I would force myself to focus on nothing (that’s fun) then as I’m drifting off again, BOOM a jolt of adrenaline from my body saying.. woah, Nelly. You better stay up, look at all these problems you have to fix. How can you sleep like this?
I was in constant fight or flight mode, even while awake. 9am on a relaxing Sunday stressed about some menial task, or 5am looking ahead at a busy day of work, my mind was racing to find the next “big” problem to solve.
I’ll never stop fighting for my son, or my clients, or anything I want, but therein lies part of the problem. My amygdala is fighting right there with me, but for things that are not life or death. The amygdala is meant to react this way for extreme situations, not for a visit to Chik Fil A.
My business mentoring group talk about mindset a lot. They talk about meditation and training yourself not to react to things when they happen.
Here’s me , living every day, every minute reacting to things that hadn’t even happened. I could never picture myself being that calm.
Start taking control
This situation has aged me, hurt my health, added stress to everyone around me and effects how much emotion and support that I can provide to my family. The business was a huge welcome distraction from my stressors at home. However, I had to focus on busy work, important, but busy, vs working on things to grow the business long term. Because ‘growing the business’ type work requires creativity.
Creativity however, takes a clear calm mind.
The amygdala grows during prolonged periods of stress. It likes to justify its existence by amplifying everything into fight-or-flight decisions. So we look for problems, fights to pick, we stir up drama, we break things on purpose, we go out of our way to find fault in others, we’re glued to our phones because we’re looking for stress.
Here is a great article that I hope helps you if you want to learn more about the amygdala – it’s fascinating.
I decided to make a change and start working on reducing the size of my amygdala. After all, I can’t control that phone call, the knocks on the door, or what tomorrow brings. I can however control my physical body and my choices. Exercise is an amazing stress relief, good food can fuel a calm mind and finding time every day to just sit with yourself and breathe. And pray if you so choose. I choose.
Each morning I either wake up with my alarm, or I get up when my body wakes me up – as long as it is at least 4am. This is on weekends too, not just during the week. I go downstairs and make a cup of coffee and go out to my backyard and sit. No phone, no distraction. I hardly drink the coffee, it just feels so peaceful with it there, and it doesn’t smell half bad either!
I look at the sky, listen to the birds, smell the flowers and I just notice things. I also pray that God watches over everyone in my family, at my gym, and in my family’s family. I pray for an abundant life and that everyone around me reaches their true potential. I pray for signs that we are on the right path. I also breathe.
I breathe in for 5 seconds, hold for 5 seconds, out for 5 seconds and hold for 5 seconds. I do this with my eyes closed facing up at the sun.
I went to church on Sunday and they talked about this exact thing. Finding time during the day to just be still and sit in peace. That, to me, was a sign that I am on the right path.
Every single time I do this, I feel so much calmer and clearer. Yesterday after I opened my eyes there were 4 hot air balloons above me that were not there before. I’ll take that as a sign as well 🙂 I need it.
I know this is working, because I feel calmer. I’m blogging today because I felt I was in a place where I could sit and write for 2 hours. I’ll get more efficient at this, but this is how long I’ve been at it.
That thought right there, just now, triggered my amygdala to say.. “2 hours?? Do you know how much you could have gotten done in 2 hours??!! What an idiot, what a waste of time, everyone else can blog in about 10 minutes, they get 7 an hour done and you are doing 1 for 2 hours. What a loser!”
I am just breathing through it. 5 seconds in, hold, 5 seconds out, hold. I’ll get done what I can get done, but right now I am focusing on this page and you will not hijack me and move me on to something else that will be left unfinished. I am finishing this and then posting it.
If you are struggling with stress, are in constant fight or flight mode, and want out. Try sitting alone outside and just clear your mind. When you find yourself caught up in thoughts, bring yourself back. It is not easy, but it is simple. You just need you.
If you try this and it helps, let me know. If you have something else that helps you, I would love to hear about it.
I am going to shrink my amygdala no matter what hits me. I can’t control anything in this world but myself.
If we continue to wait on circumstances or other people to change, to work on ourselves, we will never grow and reach our full potential. This goes not just for your fight or flight, but also your health and fitness level.
Today is the best day to start.