That thing Giraffes do
Upon successfully fleeing to safety after the threat of an attack, a giraffe will shake. It turns out a lot of animals do this. By shaking they are releasing the energy of stress hormones from their body.
I was reminded of this phenomenon recently after navigating a particularly stressful situation. The triggers I had endured were so intense I was losing sleep night after night after night.
As the situation resolved, I expected to feel better. But I didn’t. Instead, I continued to feel the tension in my body that I couldn’t release despite having journaled about it.
So I turned to a teacher I had worked with before to schedule a Be Free Breathwork session.
When I did a Be Free Breathwork class almost two years ago, I left feeling more relaxed than ever before. What I appreciate most about this technique was the invitation to listen to my body and follow its lead with the movements and sounds I made. In my first session, I screamed, shook, and danced.
Returning to this work in my time of need was incredibly rewarding. Much to my surprise, I didn't feel compelled to scream. Instead, I sang and danced, shook and hummed. My heart was open, all-be-it sad and tender. Despite my frustrations, I wasn't holding onto anger like I had a tendency to do before.
I left feeling strong and filled with joy. I slept better and no longer felt overcome by immense dread when recalling this trying situation.
Having a space where my only responsibility was to listen to and respect my body's wishes for 90 minutes straight has been incredibly empowering. After my first experience in this workshop, I deepened my awareness of the way my body internalizes triggers.
The subtle twinge in my abdomen. A slight restriction in my chest. The expanding balloon in my throat and the clenching of my jaw. I've learned to recognize these sensations in the moment as indicators I'm triggered.
Because of this self-knowledge, I choose to respond with intention, interrupting my patterned threat response. Sometimes, I go for walks while shaking out my arms and hands to release the tension of a trigger. I laugh at how I must look to others on the trail but am resolved to honor my body's need to free the energy created by the stress hormones that coursed through me just moments before.
Learning to recognize, listen to and understand our neurosphysiology is one of the gifts of our shared humanity. Anytime we experience a trigger, stress hormones like cortisol is released. Those hormones cause a physiological reaction in our bodies priming us for one of four threat responses - fight, flight, freeze or appease.
In those moments, our bodies offer insightful signals to us, we just have to learn to see them. There are some common neurophysiological responses to triggers such as - sweaty palms, racing heart, butterflies in the stomach, or heat rising. And everyone's experiences are different. Particularly because our patterned threat responses change depending on the circumstances we find ourselves in.
When my freeze response is triggered, my body feels heavy and my muscles stiffen in rigid stillness. Compared to when my flight response is triggered, I feel jumpy. My eyes dart around and my body needs to move, preferably towards an exit.
Recognizing the neurophysiology of my appease response has been the trickiest. I feel like my heart is leaping out of my chest and there's a balloon expanding in my throat. I struggle to clarify my thoughts as I offer simple, one-two word responses typically in agreement even though I actually disagree in my mind.
Our neurophsiological response to the release of stress hormones happens more quickly than the formation of our thoughts. That is why it is so valuable to train yourself to notice those sensations.
While my thoughts will tell me one story - often fixated in judgment, blame or justification. It is by listening to the sensations in my body I know I'm triggered. As a result, I am able to claim my agency by interrupting my thoughts which tend to reinforce my patterned threat response. From there, I re-engage my executive and heart brains, which enable me to see the situation with greater clarity and empathy.
Like a giraffe, I'll shake off excess energy instead of letting it stay pent up within me leading to other problems (and there are MANY potential problems) down the line!
Would you like to deepen your self-awareness? Are you ready to show up authentically at work but don't know how? What if you could figure out how by listening to your own innate wisdom with just 20 minutes of journaling? Join us for a Journal Jam, September 14th. More information and registrations is available online here.