Fight or Flight

The worst part of having a panic attack is feeling like you have no control over your body. That feeling of helplessness can actually make your panic attack worse, turning it into a vicious cycle. One extremely important thing to remember is to logically analyse what’s happening to you. If you’re anything like me, and want to understand exactly what’s going on, then learning about the fight or flight system will help you.

The fight or flight system is like the alarm button inside our bodies, part of our survival mode that effectively switches on when our body feels threatened. When the fight or flight system is triggered it makes several changes to our physical body, in increases our breathing and heart rate, in order to supply our muscles with more oxygen and pump blood around our systems, almost like a natural energy hit or adrenaline shot. It allows us to act quickly and face whatever threat is in front of us.

In the day, the fight or flight system was very important to have, if you had a good fight or flight response you were more likely to survive. The threats they faced back then were, however, a lot different to threats we face today; a tiger in the jungle as opposed to a job interview. Today, our bodies don’t require such sensitive alarm systems, but, well, we are stuck with them. So instead we just learn to manage them.

So for those who have anxiety, your fight or flight response is almost ALWAYS on standby, almost expecting a threat at any moment. It’s super sensitive and can be set of by almost anything. What we need to understand is that the fight or flight response is actually protecting us, it senses – based on what our thoughts tell us and what we can see in front of us – that something is very wrong. It’s a very good system to have, however it’s not an appropriate response to have all the time.

The fight or flight response is triggered, usually, by external stresses, for example; giving a speech, taking an exam, flying on plane, etc. However, when you have anxiety, it is common for the flight or flight response to be triggered by internal stresses as well, e.g. scary thoughts, panicking feelings, thinking negatively, predicting the future. Your own thoughts can actually jump start a panic attack, you can push the alarm system in your body, and set everything into motion. If you know what external or internal factor has caused you to feel anxious and panicky, then say it to yourself, say it out loud; I’m feeling this way because…

Many of you may have already known about this system, but weren’t sure how it related to anxiety. Now that you do know, next time you begin to feel a panic attack come on, or even just anxious feelings, you can use this information to analyse what is happening to your body. You can simply say to yourself; Well I just had several anxious thoughts, and this has pushed the alarm system in my body…now my body is preparing to protect me against these thoughts…

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