Know Your Stress Style

An important resiliency resource is awareness of your usual patterns of behavior, thought and emotion. Awareness is cultivated by intentional self-observation. Develop it by pausing regularly throughout the day to notice what you are doing, thinking and feeling. We usually operate on autopilot. When we become aware of our habits, we create the opportunity to opt for a better response to stress.

The body’s autopilot is most dramatically activated when we experience a significant stressor and are triggered into our survival mode to fight, flee or freeze. Such reactivity lights up the brain’s most primitive region, the brain stem, sometimes referred to as the lizard brain. This part of your brain reacts quickly attempting to protect you, but often does more harm than good. You may find that you have overreacted and have created a bigger mess to clean up.

A crucial step in becoming more resilient is recognizing your core stress style.

When your Lizard Brain gets activated:

Do you Fight?  (get angry, defensive, agitated, aggressive)






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Do you Flee?   (get anxious, avoidant by escaping into your computer, abusing alcohol or drugs, thinking of suicide, etc.)





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Or do you Freeze?  (get depressed, overwhelmed, paralyzed)






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Sometimes you might fight in one situation and freeze in another. Regardless, these reactions won’t help you meet your challenges effectively.

Just the act of noticing that you are in lizard mode quiets your primitive brain stem and activates your brain’s frontal lobes. This can be hard to do at first, but developing this skill is crucial for change. Once you identify your stress style(s), you can use awareness to see your lizard brain in survival response first after, then during, and ultimately before you get reactive.

You can also learn strategies to increase your resistance to stress (such as exercise, yoga) as well as tools for pulling out of reactivity if you’ve gotten sucked in (such as HeartMath Quick Coherence – see Reading Recommendations for more info on this). Your stress style determines which resources will work best for you. For example, if you get aggressive when you’re stressed, you need calming strategies; whereas if you freeze when stressed, you need tools to help you re-engage in effective action.

There are many good books in the Books/Recommended Reading section to help you learn these skills on your own, and if you need personal support to help you tame your inner lizard, seek help from a counselor.

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