Something that I don’t talk about on here a lot is the fight or flight response you get from anxiety, panic attacks, confrontation in addition to other stimuli. A notion that everyone is very familiar with, but think is straightforward you are a fight or flight person, rarely both. However, there is a little more to it as people can be one or the other depending on the situation. In some cases, a third option presents itself, freezing or immobilization.
What is Fight or Flight?
That said, the body automatically initiates physiological and psychological changes during this time. The brain sends signals to the sympathetic nervous system, causing a release of two hormones, adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones activate various body parts, an increase in heart rate, pale skin, pupil dilation, cold hands and feet amongst others. All these occur to prepare the body for action even if you are not in full control.
On a psychological level, the response is triggered by perception or “story” as I call it, of fear. The mind sieves through past stimuli or situations with similar conditions to create this fear. Priming the body by going through everything that brought on something similar, be it minimal or full-on life-threatening. The psychological level is like the spark that ignites everything.
You Aren’t Just One
That said, the psychological level is where change, as well as a choice, can occur. Especially when the stimuli are mainly mental rather than physical such as anxiety and panic, fleeing can turn into fighting or vice versa. For those who flee confronting or fighting the stimuli can happen by taking a few deep breathes, saying an affirmation like “I am safe, or I am in control, not my mind.” Any technique that allows them to take back control from the mind before the overreaction snowballs. If fighting the situation alone is not an option, then try calling a close friend or family member, speaking to professional also works. Speaking to a professional for some feels weird and brings up a series of emotions, but always remember it takes strength to open up.
Fight or flight in a situation that is physically safe instead of an instance like being face to face with a dangerous animal, jumping out the way of an oncoming or falling object amongst other physical situation stems from an issue the mind can’t let go of or close the door on. The majority of the time occurring in people who have a hard time letting go of the past or are afraid of moving forward. Sometimes this is not the case a random occurrence happens that leads to a few more. Yet, whatever causes the mind to overreact, know that there are ways to deal with it. The first step is to calm down.
As for physical situations deciding to flee or fight should be dependent on you. Is it worth the energy to fight? Nothing else needs to come in the mix or be a factor if the answer is no then to flee. Yes, it is that simple no matter what.
Tips to Calm Down
As someone who has anxiety that triggers the fight or flight response quite often, I can tell you for a fact each of these tips has helped me.
The first is taking three deep breathes in. With each exhale, think of something positive happening in the moment even if it’s something small like the fact you have on clothes. Doing this puts you back in the driver’s seat rather than letting the mind lead you further down the rabbit hole of panic or fear.
Another tactic is to meditate, even though this requires being in a space that has little to no distractions. Meditation aids in bringing presence rather than one foot in the past and one in the now, not to mention clears out all the mental chatter. One of the most common factors for triggering the fight or flight response is the minds ability to sieve through the past to make connections of fear or impending failure. Thus, I love using meditation as a tool to remove the back and forth.
That said, as a quick fix, try finding a distraction like listening to music, reciting positive affirmations or talking a walk. I use music a specific playlist with songs that make me happy. A friend of mine has a mantra of saying things they are grateful for in life. Honestly, a quick fix can be anything as long as you know it is powerful enough to bring you out of the downward spiral.
However, always remember to make you are safe and ok before anything else. The fight or flight response is a survival tool and is there to prevent life-threatening situations from occurring, but when it sparks up unwarranted don’t let it take control. The mind is not in charge YOU ARE!