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What is a Fight and Flight Response

What is a Fight and Flight Response?

Anxiety is a response to potentially challenging or threatening experience and is not subject to conscious control.  A bodily reaction is triggered and it’s happening automatically and on an unconscious level.  Now this physical and biological change is normal – it is a protective mechanism that helped our ancestors survive and is often referred to as the fight and flight response.  The response prepares the body for immediate action - to stand and fight or to run away - in order to protect itself from perceived harm.

When a person has a fight or flight reaction, the level of stress hormones in their blood rises.  They become more alert and attentive, their eyes dilate, their heartbeat and blood pressure increases, their breathing rate increases, muscle tone increases and levels or adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol increase – all the these responses help prepare the body for physical action.

Modern stressors – and our responses to them – do not compare to those faced by our ancestors.  We are rarely faced with physical threat – the majority of our anxiety occurs at a psychological level.  As our mind perceives psychological stress as being a threat to the body, the fight and flight response is automatically activated.  As we do not need the preparedness of the body for immediate action this can, in the long run, result in damage to our physical and mental health, or both.

The most common comment from people who have high anxiety or panic attacks is “It’s totally irrational”, which is quite right.  It’s not the rational part of the brain that deals with panic attacks.  This is why people often find it hard to make decisions during a panic attack.

Effectively, the fight and flight response acts as a guard whose job it is to protect you from harm.  It needs to be there - but it also needs to learn to distinguish between threatening and non-threatening situations, between friend and foe.

 
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