The fight or flight response

 People often refer to stress as the the fight or flight response.

When people are talking about stress, this is one of the most well known and commonly used phrases. It refers to your body's reaction to stress.

I will get back to that shortly but first, I want to ask you a question.

Do you think Steppenwolf was talking about stress relief when he recorded "Born to be Wild" in 1968? I'll tell you what I think below, so keep reading.

Now back to the fight or flight response.

The phrase was coined by Walter Cannon, a physiologist and professor at Harvard Medical School.

In 1932 Dr. Cannon published a book, The Wisdom of the Body, in which he described the fight or flight response.

This response is programed into your biology through your neuroendocrine system.

The response is triggered when you encounter a...

  • task that must be completed
  • challenge that must be met

When a task or challenge triggers the response your sympathetic nervous system causes hormones and neurotransmitters to be released. They include...

  • norepinephrine (also called noradrenaline)
  • epinephrine (also called adrenaline)
  • estrogen
  • testosterone
  • cortisol
  • dopamine

...as well as others.

These chemicals bring about changes in your body that prepare you to fight to complete the task, to meet the challenge, or to flee from the stressful situation.

The changes that happen within your body give you more strength and speed.

They also cause you to notice and focus on those aspects of your situation that are potentially harmful or threatening. By noticing them, you can defend yourself from them.

The fight or flight response affects both how you think and how you act.

In addition to giving you more strength and speed, the fight or flight response reduces your ability to think rationally. You tend to react first and think later.

When you react without thinking, you can take corrective action faster. You are not wasting time considering options and their possible consequences. This helps you defend against danger or move away from possible harm more quickly.

Because of this, when you are stressed you will most likely engage in well established habits.

Think about what happens when you are driving your car and a someone steps out in front of you. You don't take time to think about what to do; you just slam your foot on the brake.

Putting your foot on the brake in order to stop the car is a habit that you have developed through many years of driving. That habit helps you avoid running over someone or something.

This information can help you cope better.

It is good to know that you tend to fall back on well established habits when your fight or flight response is triggered. Knowing this can help you cope with stress in such a way that you experience stress relief -- both rapid stress relief and real stress relief.

Rapid stress relief results in reducing the symptoms of stress making you feel better quickly.

Real stress relief addresses the source of stress so that your stress relief will be more complete and last longer.

Knowing that you tend to act in ways that are habitual when stressed, you can put effort into forming helpful habits when you are not so stressed.

As you repeatedly engage in or practice helpful behaviors that produce positive outcomes, you program these behaviors into your brain as habits.

Thus, when you are stressed, you are more likely to respond in a way that produces positive consequences.

What are some helpful behaviors that you can use to cope with stressful challenges and tasks?

To answer that question you consider behaviors that resemble fighting and fleeing.

Fighting behaviors could include going to the gym and working out, doing house work, or doing yard work.

Fleeing behaviors could include going for a brisk walk, jogging, or going for a drive.

Of course there are many others.

What are some ways of fighting and/or fleeing from stressors that you would like to practice until they become habits?

Now back to Steppenwolf. Was he addressing stress relief?

I doubt it; at least not consciously. Nevertheless, there is a lot of "fleeing" in the song. Check out this video.

How do you think Dennis Hopper kept that hat on his head? Superglue?


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