The fight-or-flight response, often referred to as the acute stress cycle, is a physiological mechanism that happens when we are around something that is physically or cognitively threatening.
When we sense a threat, real or imagined, our nervous system shifts into an acute stress response. The goal is to have flexible access to all 4-F response options in the face of danger.
Studies show that determining which of these four responses is activated significantly affects your personality. If you believe you can conquer the danger, you fight. If you think you will be defeated, you run away (flight). You freeze or fawn if you believe you can’t win by fighting or running.
We can also experience combinations of these basic responses, including fight-fawn, flight-fawn, freeze-fawn, flight-freeze, and so on. Certain stress response patterns are associated with certain "disorders."
For example, narcissism and explosive behavior are associated with fighting, anxiety and OCD with flight, dissociative disorders with freeze, and codependency with fawn.
Ways to prevent the fight-or-flight response
If you have repetitively gone through negative experiences, you may over-rely on or be stuck in a fight-or-flight response. The problem is that this doesn't allow the flexibility needed to adapt to our response based on the situation. You may respond one way when a different response would serve you better. You may even perceive a threat where there is none.
The methods mentioned below will help you discontinue the response.
1. Practice grounding techniques
Being grounded means, you are aware of your present moment experience. It also means you feel responsible for your safety and well-being. Grounding strengthens your parasympathetic response, which is your body's natural ability to return to calmness. This response counteracts the fight, flight, or freeze response.
Grounding activities help to generate safety in our bodies when we feel anxious or depressed. When we are grounded and calm, it is easier for us to work through our emotions and memories in a healthy way.
A quick and efficient way to soothe the nervous system is through exercise. Using the body's own energy, exercise breaks down extra stress chemicals. A more relaxed body and mind leads to lower levels of stress chemicals. You don't have to join a gym to achieve this. You can do anything that increases your heart rate and that you are comfortable with.
Just five minutes of intensive sweat exercise is enough to break down the stress chemicals. More extended exercises may be helpful in preparing your body, but you can start slow and steady.
3. Practice acceptance
When you worry about your fight-or-flight reaction, your brain may get additional warnings that you are in danger. For instance, your heart rate may shoot up, your arms may become sweaty or cold, and you may experience other physiological symptoms. This can also happen during panic attacks, where people experience intense physiological anxiety symptoms.
Contrary to popular belief, research shows that accepting the fight-or-flight response's symptoms as natural can help reduce them. When we experience intense physiological reactions, the first thought is to push them away, but learning to accept them can prepare us to deal better.
4. Seek support
Positive interactions enhance personal well-being and stress management. Communicating feelings, emotions, and coping techniques in social support groups might be beneficial. Spending time with friends and discussing our problems can help us feel less stressed and more receptive. While stressful situations can trigger a fight-or-flight response, friends and family can counter it.
Interactions release positive hormones that can create a sense of calm and other positive feelings. This helps us drop our guard and feel safer. A few kind words or validation from our loved ones can help us feel relaxed and recover from a stressful situation.
5. Practice breathing and relaxation
The practice of mindfulness encourages you to focus on the present rather than dwelling on the past or worrying about the future. This may assist you in getting rid of any stress-related symptoms that could persist after a fight-or-flight reaction. Concentrate on your breathing to relax your body and mind so you can stay in the present.
Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth slowly and completely. Try guided visualization exercises to unwind even further. Imagine being in a peaceful location, like a tropical beach. Breathe slowly and deeply, imagine as many details about the location as possible, or even explain them aloud.
6. Go for therapy
It may be worthwhile to seek professional assistance to investigate potential phobias if your fight-or-flight response frequently becomes active at inappropriate times. Because phobias are so prevalent and are regarded by psychologists as some of "the most prevalent and easily treatable mental diseases," it is essential to give them the attention they deserve.
Our innate fight-or-flight response has been developed to protect us from imminent harm. Even though having such a response has evident advantages, many of us battle with an overactive fight-or-flight response that can cause mental and physical health issues. You can improve your emotional and physical well-being by understanding why you have this response and how to control it.
Recognizing and understanding the responses you have when threatened is the first step to learning how to regulate your nervous system. Therefore, finding a therapist to work with for more individualized support if you're struggling with habituated responses is recommended.
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