Saturday, 22 March 2014

The fight or flight response and your anxiety

When suffering from anxiety, whether it be a short anxiety attack or a more chronic anxiety disorder, the symptoms experienced are triggered by the fight or flight (or F&F) response.  This mechanism is vital for our performance and can save our lives from danger, but when this is triggered when there is no obvious danger the response itself can be frightful and disruptive.

Whilst circulating among the support groups one of the most common concerns regarding anxiety is the symptoms.  Advice I have read for coping with anxiety often object to the idea of understanding why or how these symptoms arise, but I believe that if sufferers understood how the F&F response works, and why, and explain why we experience the symptoms and what their benefits truly are then the anxiety could be greatly reduced.

The F&F response gives us extra energy, better focus and faster reflexes.  This enables us to fight the danger or run away from it, as well as looking out for the danger.  In the time of when we were hunter gatherers this protected us against other tribes and predators.  In the modern era it helps us to focus better on exams and deadlines, giving parents that extra energy to protect their children from danger and to prepare us for a fight. 

The adrenaline released, triggered by the Sympathetic Nervous System (thus triggering the F&F response) encourages the body to divert energy from different parts of the body to the musculo-skeletal system, circulatory system, respiratory system and the brain.  This response affects a very large amount of the body.  Below I will list different parts of the body, the symptoms caused and counter symptoms caused that is often experienced in anxiety:

Dilated pupils = fuzzy vision and flashes.
Heightened hearing = ringing.
Sensitive to touch = over-reactive.

Increased rate and shallow = tingling in extremities, numbness, chest pain from hyperventilation, fuzzy vision, ringing in ears and imbalance.

Heart rate:
Quick and fierce = chest pain and palpitations.

Extra energy = spasms, twitches and shakes.
Sharpened reflexes = twitches and shakes.

Digestive and urinary:
Slowed down = nausea, flactuance and stomach ache.
Evacuating = soft or runny stools and frequent urination.

Increased alertness and awareness = ‘doom and gloom’ (believing that one is going to die), sensitive to the environment (i.e. sudden movements and noises), fearful of unknown, negative thoughts and socially isolated.

It is important to remember that the F&F response and all the symptoms above are not harmful.  A response that is meant to save your life will not kill or harm you.  The symptoms, at the appropriate time, are there to help us.  When trying to calm the body down the best things to do are to take long, deep breaths (which then triggers the heart rate to reduce), remember that the symptoms are not harmful and that they will pass.  Reminding yourself that there is no danger is also important, and so are distraction techniques as the body naturally calms down.

Please do not use this as a diagnostic tool, if you believe a symptom is not typical to anxiety or is causing concern then speak to your doctor.

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