Life throws us curve balls, or sometimes fast balls that really hurt when we are hit.  We find ourselves battling various threats to our well-being, like a swordsman parrying the attack of an enemy. At a visceral level, we feel the fight-flight or fright response taking place in our central nervous system.  

This automatic response to threats may lead us to anxiety and panic. We find ourselves running in flight mode, seeking to avoid the danger that feels like a cougar on our back with its claws and teeth taking the life out of us. Or, we turn and fight, becoming more vicious ourselves like a pit-bull fighting for its life. Sometimes we give up and play possum, with our system in total shut-down mode.   

Reflect on Elijah in I Kings 18:16-19:4

How do we manage these situations so we may pursue a meaningful and productive life?  

Here are a few tips which may help.    

Notice your avoidance pattern. What feelings and experiences are you seeking to avoid?  Evaluate your own fight-flight or fright pattern in your thoughts and actions. Learn to become an observer of your own responses to perceived threats.  Addictions and various emotional and psychological problems can grow out of this pattern.

Reflect on:  Joseph’s brothers in Genesis 42 –Genesis 44

Learn acceptance.  Rather than fighting your emotional reactions, befriend them.  These physical and emotional responses are automatic, signaling you that some threat is present. The real enemy is your learned patterns of avoidance. You are seeking increased flexibility and freedom in your life. For example, you may gain freedom by saying a loving “No,” when necessary, if you are prone to say “Yes,” against your will to avoid the discomfort of offending someone.

Reflect on: Romans 12:1; I Peter 5:6-7; James 4:6-10

Assess the threat.  Is the threat realistic or more in our own minds?  Mark Twain said “I’ve lived a long and horrible life, and most of it never happened.”  Our minds are often the true battlefield wherein we struggle.  We magnify perceived threats, demand impossible perfection from ourselves for fear of rejection, minimize our own strengths, and so on.

Reflect on: II Timothy 1:7; Proverbs 28:1-2; Ephesians 6:10-12; I Thessalonians 5:21-22

Resolve memories.  When we do get attacked and injured, the memory of it is often where people become stuck. We can relive the experience over and over, even in nightmares. Instead, face those memories, grieve what needs grieving, confront what needs confronting, and seek resolution so that you may live in the present. Let go of labels about yourself that hold you back.

Reflect on: Proverbs 14:10; Exodus 1:14; Ruth 1:20; Ephesians 4:31-32 

Breathe. Focusing and taking charge of your breathing connects the deep limbic system with the conscious, thinking part of the brain.  You can slow your breaths to six breaths a minute, five seconds in and five seconds out, for example.  We can also consider how God breathed life into us and has given us this gift of life. 

Reflect on:  Proverbs 14:30; Genesis 2:7; Ecclesiastes 3:21; Psalm 150:6; John 20:22

Continue reading next week to get more practical advice on seeking balance regarding our lives.

This article was originally published on the Hammonton Gazette, March 2019 and has been modified into a new format.

Illustration by Jeff Östberg.

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