The Fight or Flight Response
The fight or flight response is a survival mechanism that has evolved over millions of years in order to protect us from getting hurt. It involves a
series of bodily reflexes and reactions that happen automatically to prepare our body for action.
Initiated by the release of adrenaline from the adrenal gland the moment we perceive danger, the fight-or-flight response explains virtually all of the physical
anxiety and panic symptoms that we experience.
Some of the symptoms may be enhanced by our thoughts, for example: a dry throat with subsequent perceived difficulty swallowing may be built up into feeling we are
choking, but in essence everything that is happening to our body is a result of it being prepared (energized) for action.
Through this response, this instinct, we are energized to take action: either slowly, if the threat is in the future (eg. a lion roaming far in the distance will
cause enough anxiety to keep away from it) or in an instant if the threat is imminent (a lion running towards us will cause immediate panic and
In essence, the physical anxiety and panic symptoms that we experience are a result of our body re-directing resources to the major muscle
groups (legs/arms/chest) to provide them with the energy boost we need to fight or run away:-
Fight or Flight and Physical Anxiety Symptoms:-
Butterflies in tummy
Needing the toilet
Feeling jittery and on-edge
Why the Symptoms Happen:-
becomes more rapid to get more oxygen into the blood for the major muscles (arms, chest, legs) to help us fight or flee.
speeds up to get the oxygen enriched blood to the muscles more quickly.
Blood is diverted from the brain (making
us light-headed and dizzy) and the stomach (causing 'butterflies').
Energy cannot be wasted processing any half-digested food in our system so we
need to get rid of it quickly: either through the mouth (feelings of nausea) or the other
end (wanting to go to the toilet).
'energy-wasting' systems (associated with digestion, now unnecessary) are shut down
eg. saliva production, giving us a dry mouth and difficulty swallowing.
We sweat more to cool
down all this energy production.
The energy boost to the muscles makes
them 'jumpy'/ 'jittery'/ 'jelly-like'/ on-edge ready for action.
The fight or flight reaction is responsible for all the physical symptoms of anxiety and panic that we feel. Symtoms that can be mild (if danger is not
too close) or extremely intense when any danger is immediate (as in panic).
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The Collins English Dictionary describes anxiety as "a state of uneasiness or tension caused by apprehension of possible
misfortune, danger etc."
And to be anxious is to be "worried and tense".
Latin anxietas gave anxiety in English; the base is Latin anxius, from angere 'to choke'