Tell me if you can relate?…. Have you ever froze when an instructor drilled you with questions and I mean Drill Sergeant drill you? Or, have you been in the medication room and completely blanked on the medication calculations for an IV antibiotic as your primary nurse impatiently hovers over you? In both situations, you kick yourself because you know you KNOW the answer! Sound familiar?
Well that my friend is you in FIGHT-or-FLIGHT. Let’s break it down. In situations where you feel like you have no control, when you feel demeaned, anxious, or scared our stress response is activated. For some, these encounters may also act as a trigger that bring up feelings and emotions from previous unresolved experiences and or traumas. In situations such as this we adapt to the stress by A. getting defensive, or B. our mind draws a blank and we find ourselves just wanting to run from the situation. Now if you think about the last argument you had with a family member or loved one let me ask you…did you stay perfectly calm and perfectly articulate everything you wanted to say? Or did you yell, say things that you did not mean to say, get frustrated with yourself for not saying what you wanted to say, storm off and or cry? This perceived stressful situation triggers our acute stress response. Our heart rate increases, our respirations quicken, we become tense and on edge and our mind draws a blank…..hence Fight-or-Flight. Side note it takes our body anywhere from 20 to 60 minutes to return back to a pre stress response state.
So because of this, my GOLDEN rule in teaching is to create and foster a safe and supportive learning environment. Period. When students are in a supportive environment that is when they thrive. As an instructor for over a decade I have witnessed that by creating this supportive environment students strive to learn as much as they can and strive to be the best student nurse they can be. In my career I have had many student nurses tell me I was like their mom and how they just wanted to make me proud. That comment I know is due to the environment that I create. When asking questions I don’t drill them and I don’t want them to answer me with memorized content alone. I engage with my students. When I ask them questions it is like a fluid dance as partners. Anyone can memorize answers but what I want to do is engage their mind further, to allow them to critically think and fully grasp the content at hand. I cultivate their growth and do what I can to help them flourish.
So if you ever catch yourself in these situations. Before you make a mistake or look up blankly. Be honest and say…my mind just drew a blank if you could give me a few moments to think about this as I know I KNOW the answer…OR if you don’t know the answer be honest and let them know you will look it up right away. If you do get caught in a fight or flight response and you are in the clinical setting a few strategies that can help include: taking some deep breaths, visualizing yourself in a calm and serene space and or meditating using a mantra that you can repeat over and over again. In these times it is important to have a support person to go to, hopefully someone in your clinical group that you can talk to right away and please know I will be rooting for you and telling you and your brain that you got this!
Till next time.
Sending you all light and love,
Cherry, K. (2019, August 18). How the fight or flight response works. The American Institute of Stress. https://www.stress.org/how-the-fight-or-flight-response-works
Cook, M. N. (2015). Transforming Teen Behaviour. Elsevier Inc. DOI https://doi.org/10.1016/C2014-0-02580-4.
Purse, M.(2021, March 30). Techniques to tame the fight-or-flight response. Verywell Mind. https://www.verywellmind.com/taming-the-fight-or-flight-response-378676