Fight or Flight

In my last post I talked about the stress response and what happens in the brain during a stressful situation. Today I am going to talk a little more about fight-or-flight and what happens during a fight-or-flight response.

Fight-or-flight is the body’s way of trying to survive through a threat. If the body feels that something is threatening its survival the brain stem sends the message to release several different neurotransmitters, along with adrenaline, that prep the body to either stand and fight the threat or run away from it. The neurotransmitters and adrenaline affect how you perceive what is going on around you:

  • You cannot think clearly or make decisions based on logic.
  • Most of your fine motor muscle control is lost.
  • You develop tunnel vision so that you can easily focus on the threat.
  • Your entire body is focused on simply surviving the threat.

When you find yourself “seeing red,” or when you are so focused on punishing the behavior that you forget about teaching through the behavior, you have entered the brain stem and have very little control over your actions. In children, fight-or-flight presents itself as tantrums, screaming, hitting, biting, or other high-intensity behaviors.

Another way to think about the areas of the brain is to think about a car. When you are using your higher-order thinking skills you are in the drivers seat and you are 100% in control of where you are going and what you are doing. When the stress hits and trigger thoughts begin going through your head you have moved to the back seat of the car. You have a little bit of control of where you are going and what you are doing, because if you reach over the front seat you might be able to steer – a little. Since most of your decisions are based on your emotions when you are in the backseat of the car you have a little control and you are able to make a few decisions based on some sort of logic – the kind of emotional logic that results in impulse buys when shopping at department stores. Once pure anger hits you are in the trunk of the car. You have no more control over where you are going or what you are doing; you are simply along for the ride. You don’t feel safe when you are in the trunk, and you would probably do anything that you could to get out of there.

I think we would all agree that we want to stay in the driver’s seat as much as possible, but how do we accomplish that when a class of children has us feeling threatened throughout the day? Stay tuned for the next post.

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Trust and Creativity

So far on our journey to figuring out what makes creativity happen, we have discussed motivation and passion, but there is one aspect of the creative mind that we have not covered yet. It is very hard to be creative in any environment when there is no feelings of trust present. Usually we trust those that we feel safe with. When we do not feel safe, our creative brain shuts down and the part of our brain dedicated to survival takes over.

This part of the brain is dedicated to the fight-or-flight mechanism, and causes us to focus on only what is right in front of us. We learned from the Dan Pink video that creative answers are not right in front of us, but on the periphery.

This is why it is so important to have an atmosphere of trust and consideration – not just in our classroom, but also in our lives. As teachers, it is hard to come up with creative solutions when we feel too stressed or unsafe. Over a year ago my house was broken into and several items were stolen. It took over a year after that incident for me to feel safe enough for my own creative juices to flow, and for me to begin to be able to focus on this blog and my workshops. Our feeling of personal safety is key to being able to focus away from the present and begin focusing on the future, or focusing away from the immediately present to the what-could-be.

Realizing this as personally as I have, it is important to me to provide an environment for children in which they feel safe. There are many elements necessary to create a safe classroom, but the point for now is that this is crucial in order to have a creative classroom. If children feel that they will constantly lose connections or items, or feel a lack of consistency in what is expected of them, they will revert to fight-or-flight mode, which will cut down on their ability to be creative in the classroom.

trust and creativity