Hard Does Not Equal Dangerous

Oct 24, 2022
Our brain is super cool. In an area I like to call the downstairs brain, we have this very important structure called our amygdala. I like to call her Amy for short. 🙂 Amy’s job is to sense danger. When Amy senses danger, she triggers the response fight, flight or freeze. Fight mode is the aggressive yell, scream, kick, hit mode. Flight mode is the fly away, run away, get away response. And freeze mode is the shut-down  reaction. So in a real life scenario this looks like walking outside and seeing a 5 foot snake slithering up your outdoor couch past the kitchen window, right where your children were playing minutes ago. Freeze mode would look like literally freezing and getting super still hoping the snake doesn’t notice you or thinks you’re dead and just moves on. Flight mode would look like running into the house vowing to never return outside again. Fight mode would look like grabbing the closest crawfish paddle and beating the snake until it’s dead (For those of you that don’t have the luxury of living in Louisiana where crawfish is cooked on the regular, the crawfish paddle is a 2-3-foot-long metal spoon for stirring large pots of crawfish). I can’t say whether or not this scenario is based on real life events, but perhaps the photos will let you decide. I’m sure you’ve looked at the pictures by now to see that no, this snake isn’t poisonous and it’s actually a good snake, but I didn’t know that! Better yet, Amy didn’t know that. Therefore, I went into fight mode.
The thing about Amy is she is genuinely super helpful when real danger is present. Were that snake poisonous, Amy did a great job of protecting me (and my kids)! Unfortunately, my husband was not home at the time of this event. In our marriage, he has the very important role of responding to all snake issues. Snakes are not a huge Amy trigger for my husband. It’s easy to see that snakes—ALL snakes-- poisonous or not are big Amy triggers for me. I will fight, flight or freeze if I see a snake. You can count on it!
There are many other non-dangerous things that trigger Amy as well. Amy triggers vary from person to person, but a very common Amy trigger is when things are hard or uncomfortable. Consider the child trying to do his math homework with great effort and struggle because it’s a new concept. Or me exercising after taking about a 4 year exercise sabbatical (I thought carrying around the infant carseat and chasing after children was sufficient). Or the employee trying to have a conversation with his co-worker about communicating better to be more efficient. These are all really hard and uncomfortable. And if we’re not good at identifying what’s really going on, our brain is prone to respond with fight, flight, or freeze and all the body signals that go with that (elevated heart rate, tense muscles, shallow breaths, higher blood pressure, etc.). Remember… Amy is only helpful when real danger is present. And as uncomfortable and hard as math homework, exercise, and tough conversations are, THEY ARE NOT DANGEROUS (if they are, you might be doing it wrong )!!! So our fight, flight or freeze response won’t be helpful! I hope you’re catching what I’m throwing here because this has the potential to be super transformational!! Hard and uncomfortable is not dangerous…mostly. If you are being chased by bear, that is hard, uncomfortable and dangerous. You should implement fight, flight or freeze mode for your safety and well-being. For real deal, don’t put yourself in dangerous or compromising situations. Please don’t let that be the take away from this article. But generally speaking hard and uncomfortable is not synonymous with danger.
So what does this mean and why have I written all these words to tell you this? This is our key to being brave and courageous. It helps us accomplish big and amazing things with this little bit of insight. If we can pay enough attention to simply let our brains know that what we’re doing is simply just hard and uncomfortable, not dangerous; we can sit in it long enough to get some stuff done. We can survive hard conversations, we can survive math homework (and definitely equip our kids to do the same), and we can survive exercise! So when I’m holding that plank position and every ounce of my body feels like it’s dying, and y’all it is super uncomfortable; I’m telling myself, “This isn’t dangerous.” Going into flight mode and just turning off that exercise program and moving on to something else and getting off that mat, isn’t helpful. I can stay in it, my body will get stronger, and I will survive! So next time you see me, say, “Christine planks are not dangerous, just hard!”. And you know what, Amy and I will appreciate that. And in a few months when I’m doing potty learning with my 2 year old. I want you to tell me things like shampooing your carpet isn’t dangerous, just uncomfortable. Just kidding, I hope that’s not the case, but go ahead and tell me that any way.
For you parents out there, hard and uncomfortable are BIG Amy triggers in children. I’m a professional counselor by day, snake slayer by night. Every single child I’ve seen, without exception has their Amy triggered when things are hard or uncomfortable. If we as parents just respond to the fight, flight or freeze behavior they exhibit, we will miss the opportunity for connecting with them and coaching them to do hard things. So when you start seeing fight, flight or freeze behaviors in your child, know that in that moment they need help learning to teach their brain the difference between something being actually dangerous and something just being hard and uncomfortable. This often time starts with empathy and you modeling that it’s not scary by staying calm and giving them solutions to stay calm too. There is so much to be said here, but I’m reaching my word limit. I highly recommend The Whole Brain Child by Dan Siegal and Tina Payne Bryson if you really want to understand this more.
So be brave, do hard and amazing things. Pay attention to how you’re perceiving something and talk back to your brain with true words that acknowledge the difficulty of something while reminding yourself it can be accomplished.



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