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The Fight-or-Flight Response

To Fight Our Way Out of Danger or To Run Away


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.


Anxiety Definition:-

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'.


Heart Palpitations
Need Toilet / Nausea


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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 action: fleeing).

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:-

blue button  Rapid breathing
blue button  Racing heart
blue button  Dizziness
blue button  Butterflies in tummy
blue button  Feeling sick
blue button  Needing the toilet
blue button  Dry mouth
blue button  Difficulty swallowing
blue button  Profuse sweating
blue button  Feeling jittery and on-edge

Why the Symptoms Happen:-

bluearr 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.
bluearr Our heartbeat speeds up to get the oxygen enriched blood to the muscles more quickly.
bluearr Blood is diverted from the brain (making us light-headed and dizzy) and the stomach (causing 'butterflies').
bluearr 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).
bluearr 'energy-wasting' systems (associated with digestion, now unnecessary) are shut down eg. saliva production, giving us a dry mouth and difficulty swallowing.
bluearr We sweat more to cool down all this energy production.
bluearr 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).




See also:-  Free Anxiety Symptoms eBook

Anxiety Symptoms: What's Happening and Why


Essential information for anyone experiencing anxiety-related symptoms. It is totally free to read on-screen, download and print – no personal details required. ›› More Details




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