Friday, January 1, 2016

Fight or Flight

In 1974, Professor Hans Selye, M.D. wrote the bestseller “Stress Without Distress.” In this book, he said that we are unable to avoid stress in life. He went on and defined stress as “nonspecific response of the body to any demand made upon it.” He also wrote about man’s great capacity for adaptability in order to survive and avoid death. At the time, he wrote that there were two roads to survival: fight and adaptation or flight. He added that most often adaptation is the more successful approach. More recently, The New York Times, Sunday, December 20, 2015 featured an article, written by a Prof. who directs the Emotional Brain Institute at New York University, regarding how to protect ourselves from active shooters. Information from the Federal Bureau of investigation and the Department of Homeland Security suggests that the individual can do more than fight or flight- “run, hide, and fight.” Translated this means run if you can; hide if you can’t run; and fight if all else fails. The NRA and individuals with a similar mentality might take exception and suggest that everyone start by taking out their gun and begin shooting the shooter first. Dr. Joseph LeDoux questions the assumption that the formula “run, hide, fight” is a readily available cognitive-behavioral choice to all in danger situations. Neurological research involving the amygdala and its neural partners demonstrates that we have a built-in impulse to “freeze.” Freezing is not a choice, but a response to danger as current research has refined the old “fight or flight” concept. In essence, freezing is part of the predatory defense system that’s wired to keep us, other mammals and vertebrates alive. A faraway predator is less likely able to identify a stationary prey. Don’t forget that movement by the prey is a trigger for attack. I constantly see Whitetail deer freeze during my trail runs. Believe me, when I, a number years ago, encountered a mountain lion during one of my trail runs, I immediately froze. I knew that running was not in my best interest. I was a few feet from the mother and 2 of her cubs. One cub quickly turned away and ran down the gully- in front of where I was standing. I then took a very small and slow step in the mother’s direction. She appeared to move in my direction. I stood erect, took a breath and slowly walked backwards away from her. As the trail was L shaped, the mother and her cub were out of sight. I turned around, picked up a staff, headed back in the direction that I had previously come. I was scared to death as I left that scene frequently looking over my shoulder to see if I was her prey. I took a roundabout way to return home and continued looking over my shoulder holding tightly on to my staff. I couldn’t hide nor could I fight. I initially froze and then eventually ran to safety. I’ve had other encounters with mountain lions, but none as scary as that. If I had a gun, I don’t think I would have shot that mother or her cub. I was glad that I was able to leave and tell my story. To be continued

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