Stress Response – Fight or Flight

You may have heard of or seen reference to the Fight or Flight syndrome before, but what is it exactly and how does it tie up with how we perceive the threats.

The stress response includes physical and thought responses to your perception of various situations. When the stress response is turned on, your body may release substances like adrenaline and cortisol. Your organs are programmed to respond in certain ways to situations that are viewed as challenging or threatening.

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3 Stages To The Stress Response 

Alarm – When you sense danger is present, your amygdala wants to automatically activate the fight-or-flight response immediately, at the same time, your frontal lobes are processing the information to determine if danger really is present and the most logical response to it.

Resistance – During this stage the body has increased capacity to respond to the stressor. Due to high energetic costs, the body cannot maintain high levels of resistance to stress forever, and if the stressor persists the body may advance into exhaustion.

Exhaustion – The exhaustion stage of stress is the point when your mind and body, through an innate wisdom, shuts down any unnecessary energy expenditure in a last attempt to survive.

There are two main systems that are activated under any perceived threat and these are:

Sympathetic Nervous System – where all our senses are activated, and the adrenal and cortisol chemicals released. This enables us to Flight or Fight as the nervous system shuts down any part of the body that does not contribute to the fight or flight activity. It is like stamping on the accelerator of a car.

Parasympathetic Nervous system – where this is more the relaxed, reasoning part of the brain and allows us to reason and challenge the thoughts coming into the brain. It is like applying the brakes in a car. 

Freeze – When we STOP and reason what is going on. It is like activating the accelerator, foot brake and hand brake of a car all at once.

The frontal lobes allow you to process and think about your emotions. You can then manage these emotions and determine a logical response. Unlike the automatic response of the amygdala, the response to fear from your frontal lobes is consciously controlled by you.

When the threat is mild or moderate, the frontal lobes override the amygdala, and you respond in the most rational, appropriate way. However, when the threat is strong, the amygdala acts quickly. It may overpower the frontal lobes, automatically triggering the fight-or-flight response.

For more on managing our thoughts and therefore our response, see our section on Thoughts

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