Last time, I talked about the Four Fs: Fight/Flight/Freeze/Fawn, how we all experience them in response to stress, and how they can get out of control when we are chronically stressed. For this post, I thought we should have some ideas about what to do to counteract the Four Fs when they aren’t actually necessary, aka we aren’t in a true survival situation.
Survival is important, no doubt, but in our day and age the environment around us can vary so greatly that our survival systems go into overdrive – causing chronic stress, chronic use of the Four Fs, and even inflammation and health issues in the body. In my experience, both personally and professionally, I have found that developing some skills to help our brains and bodies feel safe in the world can go a long way in reducing our stress.
So what helps? The very short answer is Rhythm.
Let me elaborate. Our brains and bodies are built for rhythm – both physical and relational. Rhythm in our environments allows our bodies to relax because life feels predictable – when life is predictable our Four Fs can take a break.
So how does this look in daily life?
Well, for starters, it means looking at the environments where you spend the most time. Are they soothing or stimulating? Are they visually pleasing? What does it sound like? Feel like? Smell like? Our bodies have evolved to exist in nature, so inevitably indoor spaces can have a disruptive or stressful impact on us.
Getting out into natural environments can have an incredibly positive impact…the research is strong on this one. However, most of us need to be indoors for various reasons for much of our day – so, take a look around and see what you can adjust to create more sensorial rhythm. The paint colors, the furniture arrangement, the smells, the sounds, the temperature – all either help you relax or cause you to tense for some reason. Everyone is a little different, so play with what works for you. Perhaps it’s bringing a plant to your desk, and a couple pictures of happy places or relationships. Perhaps it’s creating a corner in your home that is soft, cozy, and calming. Bring in scents through an oil diffuser. A painting that reminds you of a peaceful time. Music. Anything that makes you *sigh* breathe a little more deeply.
Not only can you bring rhythm into your life through your senses, rhythm can be produced through your movements as well. Walking, swinging, rocking, swimming, yoga, tai chi, painting, sculpting, coloring, gardening…these are all ways you can help your body settle and relax thanks to rhythm. Find what works for you – get creative!
Also consider the rhythm of your routine. If you are feeling stressed chronically – a routine can be a very valuable shift. Do you have daily rituals that help you feel calm and grounded? A morning meditation or an evening exercise routine are great, as is the rhythm of sitting down for a meal, sipping hot tea, visiting the same corner market on your lunch break. I have small children so I look for calming routines in very small acts throughout the day – like taking a moment to notice the breeze rustling leaves in the tree outside a window, stirring my coffee slowly and deliberately, breathing in the scent of my kid’s hair as she watches her morning cartoon, or petting my dog with my toes while I write a blog post. 🙂
And finally, and perhaps most importantly, is the rhythm of our relationships.
Can we depend on someone? Can we trust and feel safe? Rhythm is predictability, consistency, and clarity. We know what to expect and can rely on a certain amount of safety in the relationship. We all need at least one person like this. Relational rhythm or the lack of it is a very important topic that I will address in future posts – but for now, let’s just leave it at…we need relational rhythm to function well in our world.