Fight or Flight

What happens to our body when we experience stress?

The stress response triggers a cascade of chemical reactions within our body. These reactions aim to prepare the mind and body to defend itself against potential danger. These responses are known as the fight or flight response, named to reflect our body’s reaction to perceived danger. 

Several changes occur in our body when we encounter a threat situation, all of which have a survival purpose to help us fight or flee the potential danger situation. Let’s learn what they are:

  • An elevated heart rate increases blood flow to our muscles, allowing us to move faster and jump higher to outrun the threat.
  • Accelerated breathing to deliver more oxygen to our muscles to take action 
  • Dilated pupils to give us better vision, allowing us to better detect threats. 
  • Prioritisation of energy resources to the muscles. Energy sources from body systems not directly needed for fight or flight such as digestion and immune system functioning are redirected to the muscles. This is one reason why long-term stress can cause problems to the digestive and immune systems.  

Although these changes in the body allow us to be prepared to fight or flee a dangerous situation, in some instances these responses are not helpful or needed in modern day life. For example, it’s unlikely to be helpful to fight or flee from a colleague every time they’re causing you stress! 

We also see changes in our brain when we’re stressed. During high periods of stress:

  • Parts of the brain involved in quick decision-making are prioritised. Parts of the brain involved in logical and creative thinking and problem-solving shut down. 

Although this is advantageous when we are in a physical dangerous situation, it’s probably not helpful in situations when we experience high levels of stress and need to come up with creative ideas in an interview! The changes that occur in our mind and body when we experience stress highlight the importance of practicing effective self-care and stress management techniques regularly. Doing so, can reduce the negative impacts of stress on our lives, and help us enhance physical and mental wellbeing. 

The good news is that there are many ways to lower stress. By practicing stress management strategies over time, we can better manage the symptoms of stress.

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