Monday, September 26, 2011

Fight-or-Flight & Learned Helplessness Comments

Recall my last blog discussed a learned behavioural response to a threat stimuli - learned helplessness. I received the following two comments which I thought I'd respond to via a blog.
1. Great post John. What an awful story about the young lady. I certainly hope things are better for her now. Disturbing. I think it's important to understand how people can be affected by some stressors. Being a type A, solution driven, "do this to fix your problem" kind of guy, I need to remind myself that listening and accepting is often more important than suggesting solutions. Definitely food for thought for us all.

2. What a terrible trauma that young woman was suffering from, do you know what happened to her in the long term? Another question: do you make any distinction between physiological stress and psychological stress? If so is burnout physiological or psychological?
Firstly, the postscript to the story. The young woman ended up fleeing the country in spite of her previous concerns that her stalker would turn his attentions to her siblings. The family sold their house and moved away. I've not heard from them again.

It is important to understand how people can be affected by stressors - including in a survival sense. Those disciplines which study stress (collectively the stress discipline) have hijacked the fight-or-flight concept and focus primarily on the physiological response to a threat stimuli, aka a stressor for the stress discipline.

The following is an extract from my work last week:

I deliberately referred to Kim Lebowitz in the previous chapter when discussing stress defined as a stimulus or a response. Lebowitz is the director of cardiac behavioural medicine at Northwestern Memorial. She was recruited in 2004 and became the first psychologist in the United States to be hired full time by a hospital cardiac unit. The medical community, based on research, are coming to appreciate that the mind and body influence each other. The mind-body connection as it is sometimes referred to as. In his book dedicated to psychophysiology, Hugdahl explains that psychophysiology ‘is concerned with how mental events, like feelings and thoughts, may have pronounced effects on bodily processes, including effects on health and disease’ (1995: 3). He explains that ‘psychophysiology shares common features with other specialities in the larger field of biological psychology, such as physiological psychology, neurophysiology, psychosomatics, and cognitive neuroscience. All these disciplines have an interest in the interaction between behaviour, brain, and body physiology’ (1995: 3). You can add Lebowitz’s speciality, behavioural medicine, to that list of disciplines which are interested in the mind-body connection.
My understanding of our survival process is consistent with this mind-body approach, which you can see in Hugdahl's explanation.

In a previous blog I referred to a systems approach being adopted to understanding our survival responses and the survival process. A comment to that blog expressed interest in how I apply systems theory to understanding these phenomenon. A systems approach is a 'way of seeing the trees and the forest'. It attempts to understand the whole by looking at the parts and how they interact with each other to perform the function of the system. The interactions are just as important as the individual components. I've adopted a systems approach to understanding our survival responses and the survival process - a first to the best of my knowledge.

This approach enables us to better understand our survival responses and process. It enables us to understand the methods that have been devised to intervene in the process and manage the responses. It enables us to better understand Siddle's theories; and answer some of his questions. It enables us to identify the limitations and possible shortcomings of some of the proposed methods. More importantly, it offers the possibility of developing new and more complete solutions to problems which our survival responses may be responsible for.

The holistic approach being adopted in medicine, which is a feature of systems theory, and which I'm using to study our survival responses and the survival process, offers opportunities of developing new ways to manage our responses. Stress exposure training and stress inoculation training have as stage one in a three stage process: education about the stress process. I believe that my approach to understanding this process is superior to that offered by these stress training regimes - which focus on stress and the stress disciplines theories and concepts.

Firstly, my work integrates the theories and concepts of two disciplines studying the same process but which focus on different parts of the same process and with a different definition on the outcomes of the process. Secondly, it doesn't initially demonise stimuli and responses by calling them stressors and focusing on the negative effects of these responses. This demonisation in itself can produce a stressor, a threat stimuli, eliciting their own responses because you are concerned about the negative effects these responses can have on combat and survival performance. Thirdly, it offers help to manage post traumatic stress for those who have experienced behaviours which they do not understand, nor does society; behaviours which are judged by themselves and society causing feelings of anxiety, guilt, and confusion leading to more responses, more post traumatic stress, more mental and physical health problems, and even suicide.

The idea behind stress education in stress training programs is so that the trainee can process what is happening in their mind and body on an intellectual level rather than on an emotional level. 'It is likely that preparatory information reduces negative reactions to stressful events in several different ways, by enhancing familiarity, predictability, and controllability' (Performance Under Stress 2008: 274). I can vouch for the efficacy of this approach as I'm having to apply it to manage my stress related condition, burnout. This approach is being used to treat post traumatic stress and it is also used to treat chronic pain.

The holistic, mind-body understanding answers the question raised about physiological stress and psychological stress. (a) There is no generally accepted definition of stress, so it makes it a very difficult area to come to grips with. Stress has been defined as stimuli, as a response, and as a process. It has been critically described as being the cause of itself, being itself, and being the result of itself. (b) We experience the physical and psychological together, and they affect each other due to their interconnectedness. Affect one and you can affect the other. When exposed to danger, control your breathing (physiological) reduces your anxiety (feeling/emotion) and leads to a less threatening appraisal of the situation (appraisal) with different behaviours (behaviour), e.g. not panicking and running away.

It is a fascinating area.

PS: The image used above is of the emotion process, but is a very simple one located on the internet. The one I wanted to use, the one I'm using in Beyond Fight-or-Flight could not be located.

PPS: Reflect on this. Why would you refer to the stress discipline when attempting to understand and explain our evolved survival response? Is that the primary interest of the stress discipline? And doesn't our reference to stress bias our view of our evolved survival response?

No comments:

Post a Comment

Your comments make my work all the more relevant as I use them to direct my research and theorising. Thank you.