Fight or Flight Response is Not Your Friend |Here is Why?

Fight or flight response was one of the main survival instinct for the caveman and has helped a lot along the path of evolution but have you ever wondered is it still helpful? Sometimes, yes, it helps you to jump out of the way of a car in time when it appears out of nowhere. But have you ever had a strong emotional reaction to a situation which caused embarrassment later? Perhaps you have overreacted to a friendly critique of a colleague, maybe you didn’t show up for an exam or interview you thought you have not prepared enough for, or you might have panicked and fled out of a stressful situation. All these behaviors were your flight or fright response to the stressful situation. While evolutionarily this was a great survival instinct, in modern times it can do more harm than good. Below I have mentioned two reasons why flight and fright reaction is no more your good friend.

1)    Not Always a Smart Reaction

This is the era in which we have smart technology and people constantly advocate smart work over hard work. If we let emotions run our day we will not be able to do things smartly. Fight and flight response is one such emotion-driven reaction to stress that can make us do stupid things. For example, if a police officer signals you to stop and you panic, it could put you in a bad situation if your go-to response in this situation is fight or flight. Neither fighting the officer nor flying away from the police officer will help your case. Similarly, if you are confronted by the HR of your company, a fight or flight response to such stressful situation will also hurt your case further. Say, if you are threatened by a wild animal, or even an aggressive dog, a fight or flight response will only make the animal react towards you more violently, probably triggering their flight and fright response. In current times fight and flight response is an inbuilt instinctive reaction, but it does not offer a smart or efficient solution to problems f modern times.

2)    Chronic Exposure Damages Health

It is now a well known scientific fact that chronic exposure to stress causes damages to our health due to constant disturbance of physiological functions as a result of the triggered sympathetic nervous system also known as the parasympathetic nervous system. Unfortunately, in this fast-paced modern technology world, we are living a high-stress lifestyle due to which our fight or flight nervous system is active more often than not. We panic when stuck in traffic, we are distressed if paychecks are late and we live in constant fear of social disapproval. According to Very Well Mind chronic stress stress can lead to an over-reactive flight and fright circuit of the brain which can also reduce the functionality of brain areas responsible for fear inhibition.

Fight or Flight Response is Not Your Friend

A chronic state of stressfulness leads to over-reactive flight and flight nervous system which could lead to increased risk for health problems like a high level of blood pressure and cholesterol, diabetes, heart and liver dysfunctions, and forgetfulness. It could also lead to mental health issues like panic attacks, phobias, Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Major Depressive Disorder.

How Fight or Flight Response Works

Now let’s see how fight and flight response system works.

Fight or flight nervous system

There are two parts of our autonomic nervous system, which control involuntary body actions. One is the Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS) which controls our breathing and pumping of our heart and similar involuntary actions. Another one is the Sympathetic Nervous System, which is responsible for dealing with emergency situations with fight and flight response. It starts with thalamus that receives the stimuli and interprets it as a threat, sends the messages to the amygdala and the cortex. If amygdala recognizes a danger, it overpowers the entire nervous system and sets the gear to deal with the threat through fight and flight response in a fraction of second.

Fight or flight hormones

All in his process Adrenaline gland is stimulated and a hormone called Adrenaline also known as Epinephrine starts charging through our body accelerating our heartbeat and shallow breathing, all the blood rushes to the extremes of our body and a decision either to fight back or to fly away is made in less than a second. This brings a change in the color and temperature of our body and dilates our pupils. The same effect is achieved when you get an adrenaline kick in a roller coaster or any extreme support like paragliding.

What is F³?

It is Flight-Fright-Freeze Response, in addition, to fight and flight response an additional reaction to stress is freezing. For example, when you see a bear in woods, you may freeze out of fear; rendered unable to react at all you do not move and thus do not attract its attention. Evolutionarily this was helpful for preys as they played dead, and predators like cats and lions lose interest in them, thus sparing their life. But can you imagine freezing in front of a speeding car? It happened with me once, we were in woods and a saw a gigantic wild pig racing directly towards me, and I froze out of fear. Had not my sister pulled me out of its way who knows if I had survived the attack of such a huge wild animal? So, yeah, not really a helpful response for me.

Other unhelpful encounters with freezing behavior include mind going blank during an exam or important job interviews and dropping a glass of water to the floor when in the state of shock.

Why it is not helpful anymore?

While these responses develop to help survive in a state of physical threats like an invited visit of a tiger at your doorstep or sighting a dinosaur in the neighborhood modern life has no such troubles. Our fears originate not from physical dangers but symbolic threats like losing a job or getting a speeding ticket. As these threats are not fatal like an encounter with a lion or dinosaur, the involuntary fight or flight response comes out as an over-reaction causing dramatic outcomes.

What is the Opposite of Flight and Flight response?

Emotional Intelligence (EI) is the opposite of flight and fright response. It is the ability to be aware of and in control of your emotions to process them in a rational way and respond to emotional stimuli efficiently. Emotions Intelligence allows for a better understanding of social cues and intelligent emotional reaction towards it. An emotionally intelligent person is also able to identify the emotions of others correctly and is empathic towards others. A person with higher emotionally intelligence is not insecure or threatened by others and is able to handle his/her fears well.

Emotional Intelligence is the ability to understand that getting stopped by a traffic police officer is not equivalent to getting mauled by a tiger, and HR of your company is really not trying to kill you. Emotional Intelligence is measured in terms of Emotional Quotient (EQ) level, much like  IQ level but measures different traits and abilities.  Scientific studies have shown people with higher EQ tend to have better mental health, academic and job performance, negotiation skills and leadership traits. They also have better social relationships and family relationships and higher self-esteem which lead to a state of self-actualization.

People with a drug dependence problem have shown remarkably low EQ levels. As drug abuse is often used as an escape route from stress it is a flight and fright reactions. This shows an indirect negative correlation between flight and fright reaction and Emotional Intelligence. Good news is unlike IQ,  improve your EQ over time with deliberate practice and soft skill training.

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