Fight or flight is triggered when a person becomes aware of a possible danger or fear through a message sent from the brain to the body. The person has increased mental awareness and alertness. The body reacts by releasing adrenaline and releasing cortisol and hormones into the body which activates violent muscle tension as preparation to run or fight. After the adrenaline is released the physiological responses are; increased heart rate, shallow breathing, digestion problems, relaxation of bladder functions, sexual organs shut down and many other physiological responses. The mind and body go into survival mode. The body and mind are also deciding whether to fight or run away. The reason for this is that the brain has prepared the body and mind to protect itself in the blink of an eye. It is such a quick process that it precedes thought, therefore by the time a person is thinking about the situation, the body is ready to act on the perceived threat.
After we have fought the predator or run away our body would then naturally return to a relaxed state. The energy and physiological responses in the body would then return to its normal daily functions when not in the presence of perceived danger.
In modern society because we do not have to usually run from danger or fight in an average day, fight or flight is not usually required as a response to daily survival. That said however people can create lives which are very stressful and that which can cause over prolonged periods of time great suffering on the mind and body. Stresses in modern society can be pressure of a deadline, traffic jams when you need to be somewhere urgently, receiving communication that is upsetting, having someone push in in the queue. There are many reasons why an individual may become stressed. These reasons are very personal to each individual and what may cause stress to one person may not be a stress to another. Our responses to stress would be based on individual , values, beliefs, experiences, memories and a number of other factors.
Stress can also be a response to emotional disorders such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or panic disorders. Once our body has reacted to the perceived danger it naturally returns to a state of homeostasis which is our natural relaxed state. However for people who live in prolonged periods of fight or flight due to stress, it can lead to severe diseases such as anorexia, anxiety, depression, skin diseases, cancer, chronic fatigue syndrome, diabetes, fibromyalgia, digestive disorders, headaches and migraines, joint pain, irritable bowel syndrome.
Today’s stresses do not usually require us to run away from predators or to fight for our survival, however the brain is still signalling perceived dangers requiring the fight or flight response. So for example if you receive some information on an email that threatens you, maybe your boss is being rude because she/he is suggesting your work wasn’t up to scratch, this may cause stress. The brain may then instigate the fight or flight response after assessing the information as a perceived danger. Adrenaline starts to pump into the body preparing the muscles to fight or flight along with a host of other physiological responses, but you are just sat in your office, you cannot run and you cannot physically fight. Your body however has this surge of energy, adrenaline, muscle tension, it’s ready to take action. The physical response to the person experiencing this stress may be shaking from the adrenaline, unable to think clearly, feeling uncomfortable in the sensations of their body, to an observer this person may appear agitated with dilated pupils, flushed skin and tense body. The person having to deal with their stress response may also feel agitated and anxious, unable to return to a natural state of homeostasis as the energy in the body has not been expelled through fight or flight. The person is unable to regulate their emotions, they will then maybe have to find another way to expel this fight or flight response. The person may become aggressive and argumentative, or timid and withdraw or they may use alcohol or drugs as a way of regulating that emotion and calming down from this fight or flight response, they may eat comforting foods, or need to exercise or the body may expel it through a migraine. They may act out in dangerous ways like fast and reckless driving. Also it may become internalised resulting in illness and disease in the body.
De-stressing your life is important to your health as we have uncovered, if you’re over committed or under stimulated its time to prioritise your health. Separate stresses into 2 categories, avoidable, unavoidable. Work on eliminating the avoidable stresses with planning and decision making. A great question to ask is ‘does this choice honour my health’. For the unavoidable look at minimising your exposure to the stressor or think about what boundaries could work to improve the stressor. A great idea is also to do a stress journal for any stress triggers and review once a week, you may be surprised at what is setting off your physiological and psychological responses – Where did that come from?
Make time for exercise which is proven to reduce the effects of stress in people’s lives, whatever you enjoy, it doesn’t have to be a massive commitment, just take action.
Meditation can help release any stress in the body along with relaxation techniques. Meditation allows us to be in homeostasis the relaxation state which allows us to think clearly, make better choices, lower blood pressure, less muscle tension, better digestion and a natural balance of chemicals in our body. The body also needs to be relaxed in order to heal. If we recognise some of the triggers in our stress response we can begin to get proactive about managing our stress and set healthy boundaries around meditating for health. Meditation increases holistic health and encourages us all to improve the respect for how we manage our lives, choose to love yourself and your body start a meditation practice and see,feel and live how it changes your health. There are many different styles of meditation and usually people find their style through listening to different teachings.
So in summary, take control of your health, make choices that honour you, no knight in shining armour is going to ride into town and make decisions for you. You have permission to be the sovereign of your own health. Do you need me to ask – “When are you going to start looking after yourself”?, if you do good! answer with love and kindness for yourself. If not, good work! you should be congratulated on making Self-care a priority in your life.
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Stay focused on your holistic health.