Describing the fight or flight response
Imagine leaving your prehistoric cave and as you turn the corner you are suddenly face to face with a saber tooth tiger…or you are traveling along a rural path and you hear the distinctive rattle of a rattlesnake…or as you approach an intersection and your light is green, suddenly another driver blows through the red light and passes inches away from the front of your car as you slam on the brakes…
In all three of these scenarios – your blood vessels constrict and your heart pumps faster and harder, your pupils dilate allowing you to see more clearly, your nostrils flair and you breath more rapidly supplying more oxygen to your organs and muscles, your digestive system shuts down and that blood flow is diverted to your heart, lungs and muscles, your body releases a flood of hormones that immediately increase your alertness and decrease your reaction time making you, for just a brief moment – a superhuman prepared to fight for survival or to run away and escape to fight another day.
This fight or flight response (reaction) is what protected our ancestors from dangerous predators that hunted in dark jungles and threatened their survival. It continues to work the same way today – when the fight or flight response is triggered, adrenaline flows through our bodies providing us with temporarily enhanced speed, strength, and courage required to defend ourselves and our loved ones. These reactions are immediate and instinctive.
What fight or flight equates to today
Today we rarely encounter tigers or snakes, yet our bodies still respond to modern day stress with the same release of hormones and the same fight or flight response. This reaction to a true threat like a fire, an active shooter, a terrorist threat or avoiding an accident is tremendously helpful to our survival, but our bodies react the same way to modern day threats that don’t pose a danger. Rush hour traffic, arguments with family members, criticism from your boss, and deadlines or financial problems trigger our fight or flight response as well and can lead to unhealthy conditions including anxiety, panic disorders and chronic stress syndrome.
How to reduce effects of fight or flight
Fighting or running may not be appropriate or acceptable responses to these modern stressors but the reaction needs to be addressed in order to return to our normal state. Once you recognize that you’re not in danger, make a conscious decision to reduce the negative impact of stressors and response. Learn to let things go… learn what is important in life and stop stressing over things that aren’t important or over things that you have absolutely no control over.
Physical activity can also help reduce the adrenaline and hormones that were released, make an effort to control your breathing and reduce your heart rate, learn and use relaxation techniques, meditation, yoga and deep tissue massage will also help relieve muscle stiffness and tension. By controlling the physical symptoms associated with your fight or flight response, you can control the psychological and emotional responses as well and more quickly return to normal.