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  • Writer's pictureOrenna

Understanding Anxiety: Fight or Flight?

What is the fight or flight response?

On a biological level our bodies all have physiological responses to stress. When we encounter something that stresses us out, mentally or physically, our body releases hormones that cause us to go into 'fight or flight'. This response is helpful as it freezes out area's of our brain so that we are able to make quick, potentially life saving, decisions in a moment - it is preparing us for DANGER and hundreds of years ago it was this response that would have ensured the continuation of the human race.

This response is also known as the 'acute stress response' and the physiological changes you can expect to experience are a rapid heart rate, increased blood pressure, sweating and a dry mouth. This responses are all due to you having a rush of adrenaline enter your symptom.

Why is it useful to understand the fight or flight response?

It's all very well understanding the scientific reasons behind this feeling but how does it help.

If you're experiencing anxiety, the chances are it's because of this fight or flight response. Your body believes it is under threat in some way. This threat does not have to be a physical one, it can happen because you've imagined something in your mind and are so sensitive to danger that it has triggered the fight or flight response. This is useful to know, as if you can understand why and how this anxiety feeling happening, you can start to take steps to tame it!

How can I use this knowledge?

You've identified that your body is over sensitive to danger and causing feelings of anxiety (the fight or flight response) and now you need to learn how to lessen the impact and take back control.

1 - Is it causing a problem in your life?

This is important as quite often when we experience something negative we want to just get rid of the feeling asap. If it's not causing problems in your life then perhaps you just need to accept that this is a feeling you have sometimes and that's okay. It might be useful to know your triggers, but removing the feeling entirely is probably not a realistic goal and if it's not causing a disruption in your life, you adding pressure to yourself to change, will not help the anxiety. Sometimes we just need acceptance - don't be too hard on yourself! If it is causing too much disruption then there are other things you can do to understand your experience of anxiety.

2 - What is causing the response for you?

It would be useful for you to have some understanding of what is causing this response in you. Reflect on what is going on around you when you start to feel anxiety; are you in a crowded place, are their loud noises, are you under extra work pressure, are the kids arguing etc. It won't always be the same trigger, there could be multiple triggers or there may be a common element across all the scenarios that triggered you.

3 - What changes can you make to your life? What coping strategies can you incorporate?

  • Rest; getting good sleep is so important for our bodies to operate the way they should.

  • Exercise

  • Eat healthily

  • Build good relationships and identify who can support you.

  • Widen your interests and hobbies

  • Be mindful; mindfulness works for some and not others. It's worth giving it a go though and there are lots of ways you can incorporate mindful meditation. Check out Be Mindful for some ideas.

When to seek professional help?

There is not hard and fast rule for when you need professional help with your anxiety. Everyone's experience of anxiety is different and everyone's fight or flight response to stress varies. If you feel that a mental health professional could help you unpack or understand why you're experiencing these feelings then go to our 'How to chose a therapist' article for guidance. If your life is being disrupted by anxiety then getting that additional support could be beneficial.


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