Have you ever been woken in the night by a noise and sat bolt upright with your heart pounding, ready to react to a possible danger? Anxiety is part of a primitive human response known as flight or fight, which helps us deal with sudden or short-term dangers. Early humans often met life-threatening dangers; facing a sabre-toothed tiger, it was vital to our survival to either run or stay and fight. The response is triggered as soon as the brain thinks there’s a threat, whether it’s real or not. It’s a normal response that keeps us safe when we are in danger and can improve our performance.
Hormones called adrenaline and cortisol are released into the blood stream, pumping blood and oxygen through our muscles, preparing us for running or fighting. Our bodily systems which are not essential during a life or death situation, such as digestion, are less active. Someone experiencing the flight or fight response may also breathe faster and sweat more. Nowadays, causes of anxiety are not usually life-threatening, but our bodies can react in the exact same way. If the flight or fight response is triggered too often, or for long periods, it can also have a big impact on how we think, feel and behave.
Find out more about the flight or fight response on MindWell and get tools to help you regain control when it’s becoming a problem.