What is the Fight or Flight Response?

 

What would you do if you perceived there was a threat?  Heard of a strange noise or saw something  that made you feel like you were about to encounter some sort of danger? What is the reaction you have toward the situation? 

  1. The Fight Response: Be ready to fight whatever comes next?
  2. The Flight Response: Want to escape to somewhere else safe?
  3. Or The Freeze Response: Be still until you feel safe again?

 

If you have reacted in any way of the above described response, then you have had a fight or flight experience. Walter Bradford Cannon (19th Oct 1871 – 1st October  1945) a physiologist, who first documented this phenomenon in his book “the wisdom of the body” in 1932.  In which he described the defending, escaping or freeze responses of animals to threats caused by changes such as hunger, fear, pain and rage. He called these types of response as what we know as today “The Fight Or Flight Response” also known as the “Fight or Flight or Freeze Response” or “Acute Stress Response”.

 

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Why the Fight or Flight response?

Primarily, initiation of the response is to help you survive a dangerous situation. Our sympathetic nervous systems stimulates the adrenal glands releasing chemicals such as adrenaline into our bloodstream, it provides a burst of extra energy  for our whole body to either run or fight the threat. Therefore it is common to  experience: (not limited to)

  • Increased blood flow
  • A faster heart rate
  • Heightened muscle tension
  • Pupil dilation
  • And rapid breathing

Also some unpleasant experiences as

  • Relaxation of bladder
  • Tunnel vision
  • Shaking

 

What Can Trigger The Response?

fight or flight rabbitThe fight or flight response is mainly triggered by a perceived danger, but it can be triggered by the focus on negative aspects of situations, memories of past negative experiences, perception of lost ability to stay in control and hostile social situations. More importantly it can also be triggered by mental disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder and panic disorder.

 

Can It Affect Us in a Harmful Way?

While it provides temporary “super” powers, in the long run the after effect of stress response can indeed bring more harm to our body and mind such as:

  • Headaches
  • Muscle tension and pain
  • Fatigue
  • Disruption of sleep
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Social withdrawal
  • Irritability or anger
  • Lack of motivation or focus

 

If you recall the symptoms we listed on this website, it makes sense why we can easily fall under the impression of being in danger due to the intense sensations of a panic attack, thus engage in the fight or flight response.  And this very response intensify the unpleasantness of having a panic attack, making the next panic attack even more unbearable.

The fight or flight response may be an instinct that we cannot control, but with an understanding of what we go through it can help us to better manage panic attacks and relieve stress.

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