The Body’s Fight Or Flight
Stress Response


The instant your brain discerns an imminent threat – whether real or imagined, the body’s fight or flight response is triggered.

The sudden release of chemicals provide the energy needed to swiftly react to a possible life-threatening situation.

The term “fight or flight” refers back to man’s early survival and the ways to deal with impending danger. Fight, to defend one’s self -- or flight, to run and get away.

This impulse instinctively draws from your energy reserves and puts it immediately at your disposal to take the appropriate action.

However… the fight or flight still responds today as if all our daily stressors were emergencies.


The trouble starts when…

Your brain registers any agent or event that upsets the body’s normal homeostasis, and views it as a threat.

Stress is your body’s reaction to change - environmental, biological, physical, or psychological. These can be real-life occurrences or brought on by your thoughts, imagination, or even dreams.

Most often, the real troubles we face don't require nor allow for this kind of immediate and intense physical activity. Our primitive ways to relieve stress is routinely suppressed with the surplus of energy having no place to go!

We sometimes say, “Variety is the spice of life”. And what type of stress we experience work much the same way. Many varieties are actually good and necessary. They can stimulate, motivate and challenge us for the better.

But for many people, the biggest causes of stress result from what they perceive as having little or no control over their personal lives. Dealing with emotional stress that linger day after day can overload and bring about a draining effect.


Ready to respond…even while you sleep!

The stress response is on guard 24/7.

Activation is meant for relatively short periods of time with longer segments of rest in between for recovery. Constant arousal can create hormonal imbalances that persist long after the actual stressful episode has ended.

Regardless of what triggers caused the elevated condition, it can lead to a multitude of physical health problems if not brought back into normal balance.


The fight or flight stress response is an involuntary function regulated primarily from three systems of the body.

(1) The central nervous system (autonomic nervous system)

(2) The endocrine system (hypo-thalamic-pituitary-adrenal – HPA axis)

(3) The immune system


The two parts of the autonomic nervous system, known as the sympathetic branch (SNS) and the parasympathetic branch (PSNS), balance each other and keep a state of homeostasis within the body.

When you are challenged, hair-trigger signals from the sympathetic nervous system begin to discharge a cascade of stress hormones directly into your blood stream. With astonishing speed a chain of events follows.

Cells break down nutrients and surrender their energy for fuel.

The brain, now on high alert consumes more energy and diverts blood flow. Additional oxygen and nutrients are delivered to the body parts most in need - the heart, lungs, brain, and muscles of the arms and legs.

Activity within the digestive system is slowed. A wide range of physical changes takes place – Increase in concentration, heart rate, respiration, blood pressure, blood sugar levels, oxygen consumption, and nervous system activity. These are tough demands placed on the body!


The Fight or Flight – Friend or Foe?

Scientist Hans Selye outlined three biological phases of the response back in 1936 called the General Adaptation Syndrome.

In what Selye describes as the last stage of “exhaustion” - your body eventually loses its ability to adapt.

Excessive stress that routinely robs your energy can create chronic fatigue. Hormonal imbalances and oxidative stress can virtually damage cells and normal functioning within every system of your body!

Chronic stress decreases the beneficial white blood cells, suppressing your immune system.

The immune system involves a dynamic network within your body specialized to protect against disease-causing invaders or pathogens. It is crucial in resisting infection and to your health in general.

We rely on the stress response system to protect and alert us to danger. Gradual increments help build-up resistance and develop a capacity to cope with the unexpected. It can increase your endurance and enable you to accomplish higher-set goals.

When coping with stress, how you respond is a deciding factor in whether or not you’re able to preserve your physical and emotional energy.

Throughout your lifetime there will be plenty of ups and downs, often at the expense of your health. You can waste valuable energy by churning up your own fight or flight response or you can make the choices that replenish and conserve.


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