DEFCON 1 Level Stress

Imagine feeling overwhelmed with stress by even the smallest problem in your day. Huge energies and feelings just roar up out of nowhere. And try as you might, you can’t seem to relax.

Such massive arousal in the stress response system—the DEFCON 1 of threat responses—often has a common denominator: oxygen deprivation.

Being deprived of oxygen for more than a brief period is arguably the most extreme threat your nervous system can face. It thrusts your whole body into a near-death state—brain cells die within minutes. So your body responds with extreme, last-ditch survival responses, sending out a storm of nerve signals and stress hormones.

What Situations Cause It?

With oxygen deprivation, we tend to think of the obvious: choking, suffocation, and near-drowning. Less obvious are things like being born with the cord wrapped around your neck, medical intubation (potentially), and lightning strikes or electrocution.

Other situations can produce this extreme survival response, even if they don’t cause oxygen deprivation. Anesthesia and high fevers have the potential to cause it, because they blow you out of normal reality into altered states. And any kind of fetal distress, birth trauma, prolonged infant distress, or early surgery can cause it because a baby’s nervous system is so underdeveloped.

What Happens After You Survive?

Here’s the thing…the nervous system may never really reset. So now, whenever something stressful happens, the body has just one extreme response. This can feel like:

  • Energy storms: your body buzzes or floods with electricity
  • Overwhelm: you have to do everything “right” (e.g., diet, meditation, avoiding stimulants) just to stay calm
  • Floating away: your head gets foggy or swimmy
  • Chest constriction: your chest tightens, your heart pounds
  • Extreme sensitivity: to lights, sounds, scents, etc.
  • Intense fear: with nothing to connect it to
  • Shaky limbs: arms or legs that shake or tremble

The Light at the End

Does the above describe you? If so, one, know that it really is harder for you to relax than for others. You can’t just make it happen. So give yourself a break.

Two, you’re already doing a lot to successfully manage the activation and overwhelm. The key is to start doing it more consciously. One simple tip: Picture your arms and legs as drainpipes and let the contained energy drain downward.

And three, there’s help. Work with a body-oriented trauma therapist. It will likely take time…you’ll be working with small, 2% downshifts. But over time, you’ll reset.

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