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.
It energizes us 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 action: fleeing).
This energy boost helps us to deal with dangerous situations or avoid them: to stand and fight or to run away.
Fight or Flight and Physical Anxiety Symptoms:-
Butterflies in tummy
Needing the toilet
Feeling jittery and on-edge
Why the Symptoms Happen:-
Our breathing becomes more rapid to get
more oxygen into the blood for the major muscles (arms, chest, legs) to help us fight or flee.
Our heartbeat 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).
Other '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
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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