Four Basic Responses to Stressors


Stress Management

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Both body and mind respond to stressors in very similar ways. The four responses to stressors  include the two well-known resistant forms called "fight" and "flight," as well as two lesser known adaptive forms called "peace" and "play." Each of these are natural responses that can be applied in positive ways, and each one of them also has negative potential. In the modern world, the use of the first two has been exaggerated far out of proportion to their potential benefits.

"Fight," as can be guessed, is a stress response of trying to push away a stressor, trying to forcibly change it, or trying to destroy it. Physical examples would include hitting someone who bothers you, making an active child sit still for your convenience, or tearing apart a book that you don't agree with. Mental examples would be arguing angrily against an idea you don't like, criticizing someone to make them change their ways, or gossiping about someone in order to ruin their reputation. The two main problems with the fight response are that it tends to cause so much tension that your own dynamic system may become unstable, and it tends to increase the resistant behavior of any other dynamic systems you are fighting. In other words, when you use a fight response as a reaction to other people, oddly enough they tend to fight back.

"Flight" is a response of trying to run away from a stressor, trying to avoid it, or trying to suppress it. Physical examples of interest to us here would be running away from home because you feel unloved, becoming an alcoholic so you don't have to deal with emotional conflicts, or forcing yourself to stay in a relationship that you don't like. Mental examples would be using meditation or day-dreaming to escape from your problems, distracting yourself with television so you don't have to do things you don't want to do, or pretending to be indifferent when you are hurting inside. Like the fight response, flight generates tension that may make your system unstable. Unlike fight, the flight response tends to create a barrier between you and other people, making them even more likely to draw away from you.

Flight and fight responses are very often mixed in a single system. The urge to hit someone in anger may be suppressed by fear to the point where a person might develop bursitis in his or her shoulder. A fear of expressing anger may initiate epileptic seizures or ritualistic behavior. A human dynamic system that is angry at itself and that fears itself at the same time can produce devastating consequences for health and well-being.

The "Peace" response is one of tolerating the stressor to the point where it ceases to be a stressor, or of integrating it into the system for the same effect. Physical examples are the way we stop noticing a bad odor after awhile, easily setting an extra place at the table when a friend brings a stranger to dinner, or willingly eating a food you don't like because of its nutritional benefits. Mental examples are the adjustment we make to a friend moving out of town, deciding to let your children decorate their own rooms, or accepting a new son-in-law or daughter-in-law into the family. Because the Peace response is adaptive and not resistive, any tension provoked by a stressor tends to be quickly dispersed. However, it may be possible for tolerance or adaptation to people or circumstances to go so far as to threaten the integrity of the system, in which case Fight, Freeze or Flight may kick in for subconscious self-preservation, such as when another person's behavior becomes so destructive that a Peace response is no longer a viable option.

The "Play" response is one of temporarily or permanently using the stressor to benefit the system, in which case it also ceases to be a stressor to any great degree. Physical examples are using a physical handicap to inspire others with the same problem, turning physical exercise into an enjoyable habit, or making a game of hard work. Mental examples are learning how to heal your illness, writing a book about a personal crisis, or turning your anguish into art. The only potential negative effect of the Play response occurs when you cease to enjoy whatever you are doing. That is when Fight or Flight take over. In the business and professional world today this is referred to as "burn-out."

The first two responses result in a great deal of temporary or chronic tension, and the second two do not. Everyone uses all four to some degree, but most societies today emphasize the development of fight or flight skills much more than they do those of peace-making or play. According to my theoretical structure all four are natural responses, and each has their proper time and place to be used. However, since most of our personal and social problems come from an overuse of fight or flight, a lot of the information in this book will be directed toward healing the effects of that overuse.

Three Types Of Stressors: Stressors that affect the body or the mind are always energetic in nature. That is, it is only the energy evoked or provoked by the potential stressor that may cause a stress reaction. A hammer will not produce a stress reaction just by being a hammer. If it is wielded against a finger purposely or accidentally it probably will, or if it raises up an energetically traumatic memory it probably will, but if it just casually lies about in a calm state of hammerness it probably will not.

Also, the personal perception of the strength of a stressor depends on the current stress state of the system. The more stress a system is currently experiencing, the more easily it may respond to any additional experience as a stressor. At one time in my life when I was in a state of extreme stress I had to keep my eyes closed, because even the sight of all the objects in a darkened room was too much for me to bear. In that case it was not the objects themselves, but the energy of their dim, reflected light that I could not stand.

There are three general types of stressors that we respond to: Physical, Emotional, and Mental. The most important thing to understand about stressors is that, regardless of their origin, they always stress both our physical and our mental dynamic systems according to how much we resist them.

Physical stressors are the things that directly affect us through our physical senses of sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell. Emotional stressors are the so-far unmeasurable energies of other people's emotions and the energetic effects of our own emotions. Mental stressors are the thoughts and ideas of others as well as the ones we produce ourselves.

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