“It’s not stress that kills us, it is our reaction to it” Hans Selye
When you’re exposed to something that’s potentially harmful, your sympathetic nervous system is stimulated by the brain to make bio-chemical changes in your body that prepare you for fight or flight. This is called your acute stress reaction.
What happens is that your heart beat, blood pressure and rate of breathing increase. At the same time, your muscles become more tense, ready for action. Blood is also directed away from your extremities and digestive system to your larger muscles and brain. Your vision and hearing sharpen. Perspiration increases to cool your body. And sugars surge into your blood stream to provide instant energy.
Meanwhile, hormones released by your adrenal glands inhibit digestion, tissue repair, immunity, reproduction and sleep regulation.
Once the threat has passed, your brain stops sending danger signals to your sympathetic nervous system. Consequently, your heart rate, blood pressure and rate of breathing all return to their normal levels. Your parasympathetic nervous system then takes over to replenish, nurture and maintain your body until the next crisis.
Fight or flight serves you well in an emergency when you need to whisk your hand away from under scalding hot water. Or alternatively, when you need to swerve to avoid a car hurtling towards you on the wrong side of the road. But more often than not in everyday life, this heightened state of readiness can’t be dissipated by fighting or running away.
So, in the interests of preserving your mental, emotional and physical well-being, you have to find other, more effective ways of defusing your fight or flight state, which is one of the purposes of this website.
Hans Selye: “The Stress of Life” (McGraw Hill)
Martha Davis, Elizabeth Robbins Eshelman and Matthew McKay: “The Relaxation & Stress Reduction Workbook” (New harbinger Publications Inc)
Edward A Charlesworth and Ronald G Nathan: “Stress Management” (Souvenir Press)