Today and for the next two days I am at Harvard's pool dealing with what are thought of as sensations of summer: chlorine and high humidity. I am here for the Women's Ivy League Swimming and Diving Championships. For the last few years I have been doing sports massage for the University of Penn. (Although with 10 past years working with the Harvard Women's Team and still working at Harvard, my heart lies there. Secretly this weekend.)
We have all experienced it, even if we don't know what it's called. It is the fear response. It is literally how we respond to fear. It is also known as the fight or flight response, or instinct, although that is not telling the whole story. There is a third response that is usually omitted, and that is the freeze response.
The fear response is the body's way of dealing with fear and getting you out of a situation causing your fear. Various chemicals are surged into the body including adrenaline and glucocorticoids to help you escape the situation quickly.
But like any instinct, you can train yourself to act differently. After all, whose instinct is it to act as tall as possible and scream at that black bear or play dead for the grizzly bear? Who has time to remember which response is correct for which bear? But with some brain training and living out the scenario (hopefully more than once) you can react correctly and quickly enough to save your life.
Thinking about the fear response had me thinking about what modern day activities help us move our responses past our natural instinct. Some seem obvious such as boxing, wrestling, and martial arts for fighting. For fleeing there is running, swimming, and biking. Good for you triathletes. But what about the freeze response? All I can come up with are yoga, cryotherapy, and striking a pose. Really? Like those are going to keep you from being eaten by a bear?