The human brain is hard-wired to take the path of least resistance. Avoidance is a common human behaviour that we all engage in to manage our stress, anxiety and overwhelm. Essentially a survival mechanism developed from years of evolution, having to react immediately to life-threatening circumstances, FEAR.
Avoidance behaviours factor in WHY we feel discontent, disconnected and in disharmony.
We are no longer run the risk of being attacked by a saber tooth tiger, we have plenty of food so no risk of starvation and we have sturdy shelters to take refuge from the elements of the seasons. Our BRAIN chemistry however still tries to protect us in the same ways it did thousands of years ago.
When humans experience a threat, real or perceived the AMYGDALA releases cortisol (stress hormone), dopamine, adrenaline, and norepinephrine into our bloodstream. This in effect creates a physical state in which we have the power and speed to escape the threat by increasing our heart rate, respiration and quickens the breath.
The AMYGDYLA’S primary role is the processing of memory, decision-making, and emotional responses
Once triggered all the memories, traumas or past experiences associated with this feeling arise and deepen the neural pathway. In essence, each time we are triggered with these chemicals, we fall straight into the same emotional response; FIGHT, FLIGHT or FREEZE. This is our sympathetic nervous system; a primitive part of the brain that will AVOID and try to control the UNCOMFORTABLE feelings that are activated. These feelings are FEAR & ANXIETY
With this understanding, it is clear to see WHY we use AVOIDANCE strategies to call in sick for work, screen your calls, binge watch Netflix series, drink alcohol, smoke or habitually eat a block of chocolate… whatever it is for you, all these behaviours are to AVOID dealing with the stressor and STOP feeling UNCOMFORTABLE
These habitual behaviours become problematic when they are an AUTOMATIC response to even the slightest uncomfortable situation. Conscious awareness and the desire to delve deeper will allow you to see what habits are problematic for you. Get COMFORTABLE with being UNCOMFORTABLE.
This week I did something I had never done before. I felt vulnerable, exposed and could feel that the FEAR response activated within my body. I saw it for what it was, knowing there was no threat to my life, my ego sure but life as I knew it would continue. I felt it; where it showed up in my body physically and mentally. What memories it bought up for me. I listened to my self-talk, reframed and reset with breathwork. I took this FEAR for a walk outside, barefoot and released it to the ground. Sitting on the grass, sipping my tea I was able to reset my FEAR response without having to resort to my own AUTOMATIC behaviours of avoidance.
Often it is FEAR itself that we FEAR. The conundrum of avoidance is perplexing as ACTION overcomes ANXIETY so when we AVOID we are actually creating a bigger underlying beast that will rear its ugly head later. Then what? This is the cycle ANXIETY and FEAR based thinking and once you can learn to be CURIOUS, YOU can start the process of RECONNECTION.
Lets Explore FEAR - Are you ready to get comfortable being uncomfortable?
What triggered this response? Recognize if there is a REAL or PERCEIVED threat. Is it Physical or egoism? I wonder what this is really about. Check-in with yourself- get curious
Where is it showing up? Hands tingle, tummy turning, jaw clenching. Feel where it shows up and bring awareness to the response your body is having (this allows you to release it)
What past experience has this dredged up from the bottom of your psyche?
Did someone make you feel like you weren’t good enough/pretty enough/talented etc.?
Can you recognize past events and the memories of these being played on repeat again?
Only by being curious into your own discomfort can you reframe it. An automatic response when you do something is to label yourself ‘Stupid’. Reframe this with the neutral self-talk, ‘ gee that was a silly thing to do’. NOT ‘I am stupid’. Likewise, with negative past experiences or memories, we hold the power to reframe the narrative or release if these are no longer relevant. Don’t carry it if you don’t have to.
The best way to release FEAR / ANXIETY is through physical means. The sensations arise as chemical processes that make us FEEL a certain way, so what better way to release…
My go-to release strategies;
Grounding/ Earthing- barefoot walking on grass/dirt for 10 mins
Walk in nature- 30 mins will activate the parasympathetic nervous system to rest/digest
Write and burn- Write it down and burn the paper on which it’s written
Shake it off- dance, move, hold your hands out straight from shoulders and shake as if you were shaking water off your hands.
Water- shower works best. Wash and release from your body and mind.
NOW, it’s time to play INVESTIGATOR and explore with curiosity WHAT you’re AVOIDING & WHY.
When you consciously decide to delve a little deeper, head towards not away – your triggers will take on a new life.
Some Q’s for you to Journal;
Who or What am I avoiding and WHY?
What assumptions have I made about this person or event?
How is this event/ person activating his emotional response in me? Is it accurate or automatic?
What past experience or memory do I have that may colour this current situation?
What do I FEAR here?
Do I need support from outsiders? If so, whom?
Be curious. Lean into the discomfort. That is where you find the most fertile ground for growth.
This image was taken 20km into a 22km hard hike in driving rain...
Why do you think I hike? Comfortable with uncomfortable.