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How Do YOU Do Fear?

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Zebras don’t get ulcers. That’s what Stanford neuroscientist Dr. Robert Sapolsky unintentionally discovered while researching primates in Kenya.

Dr. Sapolsky observed that when a zebra is chased down by lions, and manages to escape being the daily special, it will go off by itself and engage in a process of stomping, snorting and shaking before rejoining its herd. It literally discharges all of the threat response chemicals that had moments before been coursing through every fiber of it’s body while under attack. With it’s nervous system out of threat mode and back in relaxation mode, the zebra will rejoin the herd and exhibit no signs of remaining stress over the trauma it has just experienced, nor anxiety over potentially being attacked again in the future. Zebras don’t get stuck in their response to threat…even extreme life-endangering threat. But human beings, with our ability to create meaning and perception even out of  nothing, often do.

“Primates are super smart and organized, just enough to devote their free time to being miserable to each other, and stressing each other out.”-Dr. Robert Sapolsky

Last week, we looked at how our own threat response serves us when facing legitimate danger, but gets in the way of growing and thriving long term. Dr. Sapolsky’s research documents the impact on our health, relationships and careers when our Lizard Brain is allowed to run the show in our lives. He observed that, unlike zebras that instinctively let go of their fear, “Primates are super smart and organized, just enough to devote their free time to being miserable to each other, and stressing each other out.”

Like the rest of the animal kingdom, your normal response to perceived threat will either be fight, flight or freeze. So consider the following ways your own fear can show up in the context of your everyday life:

If you approach threat with FIGHT, you will be present but excessive: working too many hours, always on edge, over-preparing, craving/demanding approval, or lashing out verbally or physically.  The survival strategy is attack and get on top, domination.

If your M.O. is FLIGHT, you will seek to escape the present: turning down the promotion, avoiding risk, breaking commitments, shutting off communication or taking easy jobs or relationships.  The survival strategy is avoid and get away, abdication.

If you usually FREEZE, you will be present but not participating: procrastinating, staying distracted, forming addictions or feeling stuck & helpless.  The survival strategy is apathy and get through, resignation.

 I often wonder what he would have contributed to this world had he made the choice to master his fear instead of allowing fear to master him.

My great-grandfather worked for Henry Ford. He had no formal education beyond high school, but he was an impressive employee, and after some years was offered a significant promotion in an area that he had no prior experience with. He laid in bed sick for three days, stressed out by the offer, and then decided to turn it down. Or I should say, his Lizard Brain did all that. I often wonder what he would have contributed to this world had he made the choice to master his fear instead of allowing fear to master him. Maybe we’d already be getting around Jetson-style if he had…
So how do YOU do fear? Begin to notice where reacting to fear “as usual” is impacting the quality of your life. Notice how it serves you by keeping you safe and comfortable, keeping you in the land of what is already familiar. And also notice how it costs you by making you miserable and robbing you of the thrill of being fully alive. So what if fight, flight and freeze are not your only options in the face of fear? What if there is something else available besides just automatically obeying the signals your Lizard Brain sends your way? Next week I’ll be back to help you create that powerful new possibility. Oh you’re gonna love it!
Be Great!

Becky

Becky Henderson
Becky Henderson
I am a catalyst to uncover the blocks and barriers getting in your way of creating the life you desire. Together we can transform the obstacles into opportunities. I listen to what you say…and what you do not say. Similar to a mirror, I show you what you cannot see on your own right now, and tell you what is necessary to create the results you are looking for. I value who you are and where you want to go in life.
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