New York Taxi Driver School Of Stress Relief

Brakes screech and you are thrown against the side door as the cabbie zooms over into the next lane, missing that candy apple red Audi’s shiny bumper by mere inches. You thank God the taxi at least has working seat belts. The cabbie enthusiastically lets out a colorful stream of invectives as another car cuts him off, then immediately quiets, eyes darting rapidly, searching for the next quarter-second opening between vehicles to get you to your conference in Manhattan in record time.

Big Apple cabbies make snap judgments under heavy stress hundreds of times per day, just like we nurse practitioners do, and mistakes can cause injury or even death. They don’t have time to weigh their options; they are too busy making the decisions and moving forward. And they absolutely can’t let their sympathetic nervous system fight-or-flight response overwhelm them, as they have to remain clear-headed at all times to continue making decisions, just like us.

So how can those of us in high-stress occupations avoid being overwhelmed by our own constant stress responses to non-life-threatening situations?

Respond Right For Your Stress Type

First, know your stress response type. If you haven’t already, check out this article on recognizing your own stress response: Are You Making This Mistake And Missing Out On Near-Instantaneous Stress Relief? In short, we humans respond in physical, psychological and spiritual dimensions with either a GO, STOP or FREEZE. Your responses may vary by situation, but you probably tend toward a specific type, and knowing your type is crucial to responding effectively.

ALL Response Types: Breathe First

The instant you recognize you are in fight or flight mode, immediately inhale a deep slow breath in through your nose, and just as slowly exhale it out through your mouth. Recognize that you are feeling activated, and simply allow the feeling to exist. Next, go to your response type below:

GO Responders: Pause, Decide, Act

If you are a GO responder, you engage with the stressful situation and act immediately, regardless of whether action is the best idea. Your fight-or-flight response leans heavily to the mental dimension. You are too busy taking action to notice the physical symptoms as intensely as other responders do, and disengagement is not even on your radar. Start noticing how irritable, angry, moody or jumpy you get when your sympathetic nervous system fires.

How to handle your GO stress response:

  • Pause after you take your deep breath. Recognize that you need to think before you act, as going with your “gut” may result in an overreaction or the wrong action.

  • Decide consciously how you want to respond to the situation.

  • Act on your decision.

STOP Responders: Pause, Engage, Act

If you are a STOP responder, you disengage and withdraw from the stressful situation and avoid direct action, even when engagement with immediate action is the best idea. Your fight or flight response leans heavily to the spiritual dimension. You have a tendency to become depressed and/or anxious when stressed, and may even feel bitter or cynical when stressed for long periods.

How to handle your STOP stress response:

  • Pause after you take your deep breath. Recognize that you need to engage and be fully present before you act, as going with your “gut” may result in avoidance or failing to take necessary action.

  • Engage with the situation. Don’t shy away from it; be present. Think about your options and decide how you want to respond.

  • Act on your decision.

FREEZE Responders: Reboot, Re-engage, Act

If you are a FREEZE responder, your body reacts to acute stress by becoming paralyzed. At the same time, your brain goes into overdrive, hyper-engaged with the situation, but overwhelmed and unable to come to a decision or act. Of the stress response types, your fight or flight response leans most heavily to the physical dimension, and you feel the physical symptoms of acute stress more intensely than other response types.

How to handle your FREEZE stress response:

  • Reboot after you take your deep breath. Recognize that you need to distract yourself from the push-pull of the “freeze” before you can act appropriately. To do so, pinch your cuticle firmly, and pay 100% attention to the sensation of the pinch. Block everything else out. This will pull you back into the present moment, instead of feeling overwhelmed by the stressful situation.

  • Re-engage with the situation once you can deal with it more objectively, and decide how you want to respond.

  • Act on your decision.

Which stress response type are you? Try the above steps for dealing with your fight or flight responses for the next 7 days, and let me know how you do in the comments below.

Take Care Of You,

Samantha

2 Comments

  1. Anonymous says:

    I have been in a New York cab. OMG. Our cab took to the sidewalk to avoid stopping for an accident. He did this without slowing down from the 100,000m/h he was traveling at. I thought we were dead meat. I am a stop responder and will take your advice to heart.

    • Samantha says:

      Thanks for your comment! I am a STOP responder as well. It certainly is a challenge sometimes, isn’t it? And yes, you hit on the reason I chose New York cabbies as my exemplars; they’re seriously insane in their actions, and yet manage to be phenomenal at getting results.

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