Understanding Our FIGHT-OR-FLIGHT RESPONSES

Do you feel like anxiety runs point in your day? Do you wonder what in the world is going on with you that you have these stressed-out reactions that feel disproportionate to the reality of what’s at hand?

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The truth is that your reactions can get triggered in response to a real or imagined event. The part of you that overrides reality and kicks up a sometimes-surprising physical response does not know the difference between what’s actually taking place and what’s not real. That can be baffling because it can make you do things that don’t make sense. And no one likes to be the foolio or feel hijacked by their fight-or-flight response.

Let’s discuss: say you’re at a campground with friends, and you hear a loud noise that scares you. You then find you’ve hightailed it across the campground into your tent before you’ve had time to even sort through if that noise is actually a real and present danger. Stay with me—here’s what has happened. Your subconscious mind hijacked your conscious mind (the part that feels like you). You heard the noise. Your subconscious, which stores all your memories, downloaded a memory of a threat (i.e. a bear growl) that it had stored in its complex hard drive; your imagination envisioned a bear in your immediate environment. It then sent a message to your autonomic nervous system, which houses all hormones (like adrenaline, which makes you move fast), your senses became hyper-alert, and your heart rate increased—all for your survival. Before you could check to see if there indeed was a bear about to eat you, your body drove you to seek safety—all in seconds. But then what if your friends, while you were cowering, began to laugh at your folly, as one of them had merely opened the zipper on their bag, and that was the sound your subconscious deemed dangerous that caused you to run for shelter? It would undoubtedly feel like a bodily betrayal.

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But you have to give thanks for the fight-or-flight response, because it has literally kept humankind alive for thousands of years of evolution as a species. It’s not as necessary day to day now because we aren’t being hunted by lions as we once were. We aren’t always fighting for our survival, and yet, our body still gets flooded with messages to flee or fight back. Makes you question how often you have automatically reacted in that irrational mode because of an unconscious download, then responded in kind, with an over-the-top, inappropriate response because you felt threatened—and that wasn’t actually the case. Anxiety disorders come into focus when that response becomes triggered easily and often, and the brain learns to perceive the world as more dangerous than it actually is. It becomes the norm, and that’s taxing on your whole system and your quality of life.

The more you can realize when the fight-or-flight is happening, the more you can be present with the reality of what’s truly unfolding. You can then allow your life to be directed by responding instead of reacting to daily events that pose no real threat. You start to see where your anxiety has you by the nose, where you consistently allow yourself to fly off the handle to attack, defend, or find yourself running from conflict. All are good indicators that these are areas where you can work on being more mindful, more present, more conscious. Breathing through automatic responses of fight-or-flight to stabilize your anxiety levels is helpful. It allows you to feel more in control and, ultimately, happier as a result. And your flight-or-flight response can show up for you in instances where it’s actually useful, when there’s a real need for its gift.

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