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5 Ghosts of Stress Responses
When stress happens in my life, my first reaction is always the same - to walk, drive or fly away from the stressful things as quickly as possible. I react like this because this is what kept me feeling safe when I was younger; only then it looked like hiding in my room, getting outside or hopping on the closest bus. I know, however, that as fun as it is to fly away from my problems, running away doesn’t make the problem go away and can often hurt my loved ones. I’m slowly learning about my stress response and unlearning the pattern of acting on my reaction. In honour of Halloween this week, these spook-takular types of stress responses are here for you to check out and identify your own pattern:
The Explosive Ghost: When stressful situations happen, you may find yourself feeling irritable and can react by starting an argument or wanting to hit or break something. This is your fight response. When you feel the urge to fight, lean into what your body needs and find a way to do so safely. You can do activities such as: jumping jacks, going for a walk, or yelling into your pillow - anything that gets that stored up energy out in a healthy way.
The Frozen Ghost: When you feel stress, your body leaves you feeling stuck and still. This is your freeze response. It feels safest to say nothing and do nothing. Take time to yourself if that feels safe. Grounding strategies can help you get back to calm. A great grounding strategy is: grab onto a small object. Notice its size, shape, bumps, temperature. Take some deep breaths before returning your attention to the present moment.
The Agreeable Ghost: When you feel stress, it feels safest to go along with what other people say and to work for their approval. This is your fawn response. It’s important to ask yourself if this is a safe person and make sure you remind yourself that you deserve to have your voice heard. Talk to someone you trust and feel safe with.
The Sleepy Ghost: When life feels stressful, you feel tired. Your mind might be foggy, your body may be exhausted and you may crave rest. This is your fatigue response. Sleep is our body’s way of resting. It may signal that you have too much on your plate. Listen to your body. Assess if you can let anything go. Ask for support.
The Disappearing Ghost: When you feel stress, it feels best to take time to yourself. You might not text friends or stay in your room. This is your flight response. It’s okay to take time to yourself while also keeping connected with your loved ones. Let your friends & family know you’re taking time to yourself and let them know when you’ll be back.
It‘s totally normal to react in ways that have made you feel safe in the past. We react like this because these stress responses kept our prehistoric ancestors safe from predators and other dangers. When the dangers start to look like midterms and conflict with friends however, these stress responses can lead us to act in ways that don’t support our best interests. Over time and with trusted people, we can begin to notice what makes us feel unsafe and know how to move through those feelings. By letting your friends and family know about your ghosts, you can work together to exile your ghosts and know when to reach out when you need support.
Jill joined mindyourmind as Program Coordinator in 2023. She graduated from the University of Guelph Psychology and spent years working with youth. Jill is passionate about giving youth a place to be heard and helping them feel empowered in who they are. In free time, Jill is often lost in the woods, diving into a new creative project or hunting for a perfect spot for her hammock.
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