More on the Fight or Flight response

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Alan Patching back with another addition of Transforming Minds.

One of the most commonly asked questions that I’m faced with is, ‘tell me about the Fight or Flight response’.

Well in past posts we’ve talked about the reaction of the Limbic Hypothalamic System to perceived dangers that may or may not be real dangers. Quite often these aren’t as bad as what we perceive them to be, and the fight or flight response is simply the response we get to that, so by the process we’ve talked about before, the amygdala gets the adrenal glands flooded with adrenaline and noradrenaline, and we experience certain physical characteristics or symptoms and this is what they are:

  • blood pressure goes up
  • heart rate goes up
  • quite often we sweat
  • we may feel nauseous and
  • we may feel a tightness about the throat.

These are the main symptoms. Now it feels pretty awful when a group of these happen, and if they all happen together, it can feel terrible. But, you want to know something? For the most part, it’s your body acting absolutely perfectly. Let’s just explain to you why that’s the case.

Well, first of all, it’s called the fight or flight response for the reasons we discussed in previous episodes. It goes back into our history as human beings where we are either fighting an animal or an invader or an attacker or we are running away from it.

The other part of it is the freeze response where we just hope … with the dear in the head lights look … if we just stop and don’t move, maybe they won’t see us. And a lot of animals you will see on nature shows do that as their primary response mechanism.

Now, how does this all work?

Well, once adrenaline hits the body it makes the heart rate go up and the blood pressure increase. Why? Because fighting or fleeing takes a lot of energy so we need to make sure that the blood pressure is up and the heart is pumping to keep the oxygen going to keep our body functions going so we can fight longer, run longer, or freeze more effectively.

What about the second one we talked about? And that is the sense of sweating. Well, when we run or when we fight the temperature goes up, so by making our body sweat, particularly in the arm pits, behind the leg, the lower back maybe down here in the chest, what that does is sets up the circumstances where evaporation can take place and evaporation causes cooling. So that’s preparing the cooling system on the body so that again, we can continue to fight, run or freeze longer. It may not feel good but it is effective.

The next thing is that we may feel nauseous. Why is that?

Well, the body over the years and over the century has learnt to take the blood away from the vital organs of the stomach and into the peripheral limbs like the legs and the arms. Three reasons this time;

  • one is so we can fight more affectively with our arms and feet
  • two is so we can run more effectively with our arms and feet and
  • the third thing … if an animal did get us, then mostly (going back in history) mostly they are going to go for the soft part of the body first because other animals are going to come and fight over the meal that’s available. So the guy who made the kill and the animal that made the kill is going to be very, very quick eating at the soft organs first. Similarly, if you’re having a hand to hand combat with someone it’s a lot easier to get a knife or a spear in those soft organs first so we evolved as knowing it isn’t a good thing if we are being attacked there first. So it’s an interesting part of human development to see what’s happening there.
  • Now, the other thing we mentioned was a sighing where we sort of go “uuuuh, haa” the reason for that is the body knows that we need more oxygen to be able to fight well or run effectively, so it gives us a tightening around the chest and throat that makes us need to go “uuuh, haa” and breathe in … so doing it super oxygenates our body.

So the next time your having an anxiety attack or a fight or flight response, spare a few minutes to realise that it may not be comfortable but it’s your body working absolutely perfectly.

Now if you want more information on this and a more detailed description, you can go into the free resources part of our website here at and I’ve prepared an e-Book called Getting A Grip On Anxiety that’s available completely free and you can download from the site whenever you like.

For now, thanks for watching, I’m Alan Patching. Bye

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