The Top 3 Instinctive Stress Strategies

Stress arises when life or work presents us with something new or different; a change or challenge, which we subconsciously perceive as a threat.  Our responses to such experiences are often automatic; they are reflexive or ‘baked in’: we engage them without even thinking.  Yet many of our instinctive, conditioned responses are ineffective in terms of adapting to change.  It is worth reflecting on our common responses to stress, and how well they serve us.  Here are three key strategies which we can all tend to use to varying degrees.  See if any resonate for you…

The Warrior Strategy

ancient antique armor armour
Warriors fight against experiences of change or transition.

The Warrior strategy is to go into battle with experiences of stress.  We don our suit of armour, gather up our weapons and actively fight to control situations of change or transition; to bring our external world around to our way of thinking.  This strategy is rooted in physical action and tangible response.  It can be valuable in a crisis and so habitual Warriors often find themselves in management and leadership roles, as they are perceived as being well-equipped to take charge of and handle change.

However, the Warrior strategy usually relies on avoiding, ignoring or suppressing any physical or emotional response to stress within ourselves and others around us.  Habitual Warriors are more prone to hostile and aggressive behaviour, can often suffer tension in neck, shoulders and upper back and may go on to develop cardiovascular conditions.  It is advisable for Warriors to use movement-based practices to help settle and soothe their physical stress symptoms, in the first instance.

The Worrier Strategy

woman wearing pink top
The Worrier Strategy is to engage mentally with a stressful situation.

The Worrier Strategy is to become locked in patterns of fear-oriented thinking and feeling about an experience of change or transition.  This strategy is linked to a flight response, but with an underlying perception that there is little to no choice in a situation.  So we resist it by dwelling on the problem in our minds instead.  The Worrier strategy is rooted in mental activity and emotional response.  Thought patterns tend to be coloured by instinctive fear and anxiety, there can be a lack of objectivity or positivity.  It is helpful in situations where it pays to stand back and consider options and feelings, but caution needs to be taken in getting stuck in Thinking mode, without taking positive action.  Habitual Worriers are more prone to states of emotional overwhelm and fatigue.  Physically, they are more likely to suffer lower back pain, stomach/digestive complaints and tension headaches.  It is advisable for Worriers to use slow and physical grounding practices and targeted mindfulness techniques to help settle and soothe their mind and gently guide them towards physical movement.  Care must be taken with breathwork, which can exacerbate the anxiety that manifests as a product of the Worrier Strategy.

The Ostrich Strategy

photo of ostrich head
The Ostrich Strategy is to ignore stress and its causes.

The Ostrich Strategy is to avoid or minimise any situation of change or transition.  We respond by physically and mentally disengaging from the problem or person.  Essentially, we do our best to ignore it, in the hope that it will go away.  It is linked to the freeze response.  We actively suppress any thoughts or feelings that naturally arise when we are triggered or reminded of the stressor.  This strategy can be useful in situations where an immediate response could be counter-productive, as it basically says ‘Park it’.  Habitual Ostriches can be susceptible to both inertia and seemingly panicked behaviour, as they may become frenzied in distracting and diverting themselves from the primary sources of their stress.  This can lead to depression, exhaustion and burnout.  They can be out of touch with their physical and mental stress symptoms and highly resistant to engaging with them in any way.  Safe guidance in easing this resistance via physical movement and breathwork is typically a helpful starting point.

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