Exploring the 'fight-or-flight' response

tiger.png

Or, what happens to your body when you’re face to face with a tiger

The ‘fight-or-flight response’ is the ultimate survival tool. It describes the instinctive physiological responses that all humans and most mammals experience when faced with a threatening situation.

Historically, this ‘threatening situation’ could have easily been a tiger. And whilst it’s not amazingly likely to find yourself head on with a large predator on a day to day basis anymore, your body reacts in exactly the same way to anything it finds stressful. For the 25.3% of people who consider fear of public speaking their number one phobia, there’s next to no difference in how the body reacts.

So how does it work?

The fight-or-fright response begins in the brain

We are all constantly sensing. Our eyes, ears and other senses send information about our surroundings to the amygdala - an area of the brain involved with the experiencing of emotions. The amygdala interprets this information and when it perceives danger, it instantly sends a distress signal to the hypothalamus - the area of the brain which communicates with the rest of the body through the autonomic nervous system.

The autonomic nervous system is responsible for control of the bodily functions not consciously directed, such as breathing, the heartbeat, and digestive processes. The autonomic nervous system has two components, the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system

“The sympathetic nervous system triggers the fight-or-flight response, providing the body with a burst of energy so that it can respond to perceived dangers. The parasympathetic nervous system promotes the rest-and-digest response that calms the body down after the danger has passed.” (Harvard Medical School)

So after the distress signal is sent, the hypothalamus activates the sympathetic nervous system by sending signals through the autonomic nerves to the adrenal glands. The adrenal  glands respond by releasing the hormone epinephrine (also known as adrenaline) into the bloodstream. 

As adrenaline circulates through the body, it causes a number of physiological changes

At doppel, we’re extremely interested in the fight-or-flight response. Being ready to run away from a tiger is important, but being ready to run away from giving a presentation at work isn’t as helpful! 

We’ve all wanted to change how we feel at some point, and being able to feel calmer even when your fight-or-flight response has kicked in at an unwanted moment is a useful skill.

Read more about how to keep calm with doppel here.