The term Fight or Flight has now become a well know term. It is a really old physiological response that goes back millions of years and was incredibly helpful when we were part of the food chain.
The fight or flight response, also sometimes known as an acute stress reaction, is a reaction that occurs in response to a perceived threat or dangerous situation. The body produces a hormone called adrenaline, which causes symptoms such as increased heart rate, increased blood pressure, pupil dilation and increased blood flow to the muscles. Essentially it’s getting the body into a heightened start of capability to be ready to manage the risk. Clever hey!
However, people who are familiar with anxiety will probably recognise the above symptoms. They would probably associate these symptoms with a feeling of fear or threat that makes you on edge or provokes an overwhelming desire to get out of the situation.
Some of you may have noticed in the original definition I said perceived threat. This means that we don't necessarily have to be in a dangerous situation for the body to generate a fight or flight response, only to perceive we are!
So where might this response be helpful? Being chased by a bear or dodging a falling piano, something of this nature we would require the body to perform in this way. On instinct as we may not have time to think! But where is it less helpful? A presentation at work, a first date, a supermarket queue! None of these situations are generally dangerous or a threat. However, if we perceive them to be our brain will react to this and produce the fight or flight response, activating the above reaction.
Also our brains love routine, it allows the brain to store information and then operate on an autopilot setting once it thinks it knows what it’s doing. So if we have told our brain something is dangerous, it will store that information for next time and cleverly produce the response not only during but even before or just when thinking about the situation. Amazing right!
But, what if there has been a misunderstanding? We told our brains something was dangerous, our brain told our body, or body reacted and we then got freaked out because of the response we got. For some of us the feeling produced by the fight or flight response is very unpleasant and the way they are often dealt with is to AVOID! Avoid all or any situation that may cause me to feel like that.
The problem with this response is it never corrects the misunderstanding. We go on telling our brains it’s dangerous, so our brains keep providing the same response and the cycle continues.
So it’s not the hardware that is having the malfunction here, it’s us.
We are misinterpreting our brain’s wondrous ability to create a physiological response, perfect for danger, and seeing the response as the danger.
So what’s the solution? Understanding
We need to take a step back and rather than reacting or evening avoiding, we need to start checking and asking why am I feeling this way? Is this really a situation to be scared of? What actually is the threat here? Is this response going to help me? What new message do I need to send to my brain to let it know I need a different response?
The key is knowing the response cannot harm you, the response is within your control almost all the time (apart from when in real danger and instinct takes over thank goodness) and you can change the way you feel and choose the way you want to feel. You just have to tell your brain that!
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