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20 June – “The Shut Down”

There have been times in my life when I’ve felt like I’ve been “shutting down”. I’ve been fighting to “keep my head above water”, and I can literally feel myself withdrawing emotionally and mentally.

When that’s happened those parts of me that are creative, expressive and enable me the ability to communicate and “be visible” to those around me start to diminish and retreat. Much like a turtle inside their shell. I call it “the shut down”, because I know I am shutting down inside as a defence and protection mechanism.

The “shut down” is a response to stressful, difficult situations and circumstances. It enables us to keep “functioning” on the outside, doing the bare minimum so as not to drain any coping resources.

When we are in “shut down mode” it’s not ever who we really are. But sometimes people can be in shut down for so long they forget who they are. They never come out of their shell, and are in a constant heightened state of being under threat.

“The Shut Down” happens because there’s a small part of our brain called the amygdala that thinks there’s something it needs to protect us from. It switches on when it thinks we’re in danger, similar to a personal body guard for our brain. It’s there to protect us. It’s job is to get us ready to run away from danger or fight it. People call this ‘fight or flight’. If our amygdala thinks there’s trouble, it will immediately give our body what it needs to be strong, fast and powerful. It will flood our body with oxygen, hormones and adrenaline that our body can use as fuel to power our muscles to run away or fight.

The effects of fight or flight don’t only occur in our brains. Our bodies are physically affected by this state as well, especially when it’s prolonged.

Because our bodies want to use all of our available energy for fighting or fleeing, they stop other energy-spending processes like digestion. That’s why we can feel sick during or after high-stress situations.

You’ve probably felt how fast your heartbeat can get during stressful situations. Our fast heartbeat actually sends a signal to our brains’ prefrontal cortex – the part that handles thought processing and decision making. The signal tells this part of our brain to shut down temporarily and let our midbrain take over. When we’re in this state, instinct and training take over from rational thought and reasoning.

If we don’t need to run away or fight for our life, there’s nothing to burn all that fuel – the oxygen, hormones and adrenalin – that the amygdala has flooded us with. When this happens it even effects our breathing , that’s why we can feel breathless, dizzy, sweaty, and have butterflies in our stomach as our digestive system shuts down too.

The thing to remember in all of this physiology is that God created us, and He knew what we would need to live. He knew we would at times need to be able to respond quickly, to be on the defence in a dangerous situation, or be able to “run” and move quickly. He created us to be able to handle and overcome situations in life. He made us with the “fight or flight’ mechanism.

It’s when things get out of balance in our lives; where we are in constant anxiety and stress, that what God has created for good starts to be unproductive. But we can do something about it. We don’t have to just “keep our heads above water”, we don’t have to live in the “fight or flight” mode, or the  subsequent “shut down mode”.

That’s not what God wants for us. He says, “Don’t be anxious, “Don’t shut down; don’t shut down to protect yourself. Don’t shut down in fear. You can overcome this.”

Self-awareness is a great thing when it is in operation in our lives. And being self-aware is the first step in staying out of the “shut down mode”. It means being aware of how we are feeling and understanding when we may be feeling over stressed or anxious.

God wants us to be strong, and to be self aware enough to know where we aren’t strong so that we can build “faith muscles” in those areas of weakness.

When we are “puny” and weak in an area of our lives, we easily get things out of perspective, and are prone to stress, fear and anxiety.

God wants us to be strong, and not puny. In actual fact the bible talks about being “fat” so that we might break off yokes in our lives. If you have ever seen a sumo wrestler it’s a bit like that. They are both fat and strong; nothing is going to push them around.

“In that day their burden will be lifted from your shoulders, their yoke from your neck; the yoke will be broken because you have grown so fat.” (Isaiah 10:27)

“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power”. (Ephesians 6:10)

We can be “sumo wrestlers” in our lives by feeding on the things that make us strong.

God says His Word makes us strong because it strengthens our spirits, renews our minds and gives us knowledge of who we are and the resources available to us as a child of God. Then we can be the person that we were born to be.

We don’t have to go into “shut down mode” or have our bodies and brains go into flight mode all the time. God wants us to live balanced, burden free lives where we have fun and enjoy all that He has given us.

Today make time to “fatten up” on the word of God so that you build your strength, and maintain balance and freedom in your life.

If you know you struggle in an area, and it’s been a weak spot; don’t stay weak. Instead get your bible out and find every verse that talks about that issue. Write it down and carry it with you, look at it throughout the day until it renews your thinking and changes your response. Build your faith and understanding of God’s power to make you strong.

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Romans 12:2)

“For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant. But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.” (Hebrews 12:12-14)

“Why do you spend money for what is not bread, and your wages for what does not satisfy? Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourself in abundance. (Isaiah 55:2)

God promises us “that He gives strength to the weary, and increases the power of the weak” (Isaiah 40:29)

Isn’t it about time we came out of hiding and turned our “shut downs”, into “breakouts!”

Prayer: Lord I don’t want to live in a state of anxiety and “shut down” all the time. Help me to strengthen myself in your word, and to come out of hiding. In Jesus name Amen.

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