Alien Invasion And A Tangerine
Gridlocked traffic, the sound of sirens, flight delays — they’re all obvious triggers for the stress response.
But what happens when a trigger gets pulled from the unlikeliest of places — say, a piece of fruit?
Your friend has brought you a beautiful, fresh, bright-orange tangerine. All the way from Florida, she says, and you savor that feeling of special attention until you can savor the taste.
But later, after lunch, when you go to peel the tangerine, you notice that it’s dried out. You’re disappointed instead of excited. You begin to wonder why your friend made such a big deal out of presenting you with this literally tasteless gift. Truthfully, you wish she hadn’t bothered.
Next, you begin thinking that maybe your friend isn’t such a friend. You begin recalling all the ways in the past six months that your friend has let you down. And you realize that you were hoping the delicious tangerine erase all the irritations and broken promises from the past. Geez a dried up tangerine, proof that nothing has changed? She interrupts you all the time, thinking intently about all the other things your so-called friend has done to bug you. Your mood has gone as sour as the tangerine that you toss in the trash, and you begin to get anxious about seeing your friend again. You feel off-kilter, as if aliens have invaded your emotions.
Sure, peeling a tangerine is a petty example, but it represents a phenomenon that we experience almost daily — converting an unmet expectation into a misrepresentation of perceived threat.
And such small ways of thinking have huge impacts on our health, happiness, future, families, organizations and communities.
Humans have evolved to survive in a world full of primal danger, and to be on the alert for violations, no matter the size. Our brains simply can’t help but interpret unfortunate incidents — whether it’s a rotten pear or a roaring bear — as a threat. And the stress hormones repeatedly released by this instinct are causing us to gain weight and get depressed. We’re simply wired to go haywire.
Unless, that is, we learn to train our brains otherwise, so that the super-charged adrenal system can relax and recalibrate.
An instantaneous, emotionally charged interpretation that something is wrong. At the first sign of perceived threat, the super-charged adrenal system releases stress hormones and other alarms shouting danger! to the brain. These sophisticated and highly honed reactions, possibly complicated by memories of other similar incidents, overtake the rational ability to decipher a misconceived response from an actual threat.
There are a plethora of physiological symptoms that indicate the flight or fight response has been triggered. These include:
Disassociation – a feeling of being hijacked by an alien force.
Sudden changes in the body, breathing and heart rate.
Muscle tension or weakness.
Obsessive thoughts, confusion, irritation.
Making generalizations, jumping to conclusions and projecting blame with certainty.
It’s important to note that when we react before reasoning whether we have legitimate cause to flee or fight, we embed our misappropriated response and our projection becomes real.
Affects Of Triggering
Eventually, these triggered responses become habits. These habits not only affect the way we experience events, they change our biochemistry, as described in the book, Retooling on the Run, by Stuart Heller and David Sheppard Surrenda:
"The power of belief shapes your actions, your experiences, and your results. Believing involves the whole body. Your beliefs are not found only in your thoughts, they are found everywhere, even in the subtle shapes of your posture and in the dynamics of your movements.
Because triggering is a habitual response, we automatically act upon behavior patterns, thoughts, feelings, and moods. So, when we can learn to distinguish a trigger simply for what it is, and observe ourselves when it occurs, we develop the ability to disengage. Triggering then ceases to define our actions."
How To Disengage
To begin, you must own up to that fact you get triggered – thoughts, actions, moods and freewill are altered when you admit they are held hostage by fear. Once you acknowledge triggering as a reality, begin to consciously observe yourself. Witnessing yourself in a triggered state can feel almost like watching someone else, or a movie. Keep in mind if your ability to observe is only possible at a later time, upon reflection – you can always return to a more centered place in order to see what a trigger is and its impact at any time.
When You Feel You’re Being Triggered, Ask Yourself:
What is happening to my:
What am I saying about:
- The world?
How is this effecting my:
- Future Possibilities?
To raise self awareness and become present when triggered:
- Acknowledge your trigger to yourself and others.
- Request support.
Once triggered, it’s important to remember that your internal physiology, hormones and neuron receptors are linking to each other to cause reactions. Your entire body is activated. The most immediate way to re-center is to focus on the external body – structure, posture and breathing – rather than misguided thoughts, feeling and impulses.
Immediately following the triggered response, take a moment to acknowledge these realities:
- I am triggered.
- I am under siege by my reactions because my mind has conjured a non-existent threat.
- There is no real threat and I am not in danger.
The practice of centering is actually very simple and can be done anywhere – at the office, in a park, or at home. You may practice centering while sitting or standing, either way is useful and the principles are the same.
First, say to yourself, I am centering now. Do a few passive stretches to draw your attention to your body, particularly, structural alignment. Think of this action as shifting your body into its optimal alignment for the sake of efficient blood and oxygen flow.
From your sitting or standing position rebalance your feet so they are placed flat and firmly on the ground. If you are standing, make sure you’re not slightly pushed backwards or forward, sideways or inward. Now, continue making alignment adjustments all the way up the body. From your feet to your knees, unlocking them and releasing any tension, then up to your hip joints, squaring your hips so they are not twisted or uneven. Notice if you have any twisting in your torso – if so, release and straighten. Moving up to your shoulders and arms, remember the shoulders should be even and your back not drooping or rounded. Let the arms hang loose. Finally, your head should be lifted up lightly off the spine and centered, not tilted too far to one side, too far back, or dropped forward. Let your gaze be light and neutral, not blank or intense.
Breath From Your Belly
When you inhale your belly rises, when you exhale your belly falls. Place one hand right below your belly button so you can feel the rise and fall. Observe how you feel. You may close your eyes, but then open them again to fully observe yourself centered. Finally, say to yourself, I am centered.