Fight or Flight: Does It Really Help You Survive?
Original Article: Fight or Flight: Does It Really Help You Survive?
Water Bear Declare: Should you stay or should you go? One might get you killed you know…Water Bear
Fight or Flight – Your Right to Stay Alive
Chances are you’ve heard of fight or flight at some point in your life. If not, well, the short version goes like this: Fight or flight is an automatic defense tool that helps you stay alive. Sometimes it’s useful, sometimes not so much. How useful it is for you depends on your situation, your response, and the outcome you actually get.
Fight or flight isn’t something you have much control over. It’s more of an instinct. It happens automatically because your body is wired to make decisions quickly when faced with a threat. The idea is that humans don’t live forever. In order to avoid the end of our race, the body uses fight or flight to help us live long enough to procreate. Basically it’s there to help ensure “our” survival.
But just because you have this fantastically fast, automatic response, and just because it’s meant to save your ass, doesn’t mean it’s always useful. Today we’ll consider fight or flight in regards to your survival goals.
How does it work?
Does it stack up at all 3 survival levels?
Could it actually get you killed?
How the Fight or Flight Response Works
The Fight or Flight response is a result of near instantaneous reactions of the Autonomic Nervous System. The word “autonomic” indicates that the system is both partially automatic and also partially independent. What that means is you have little control over it.
Anytime you face a threat, whether real or perceived, fight or flight kicks in. Suddenly your Autonomic Nervous System activates and your body goes through all kinds of changes. Some of those changes include:
• Pupil Dilation
• Heart Rate Increase
• Sudden Deep Breathing
• Decreased Saliva
• Adrenaline & Sugar Release
So let’s say you’re out shopping and you have to cross the street. You push the crosswalk button and wait and finally it’s your turn. You step out and get about halfway across when suddenly a text-blind driver comes barreling toward you. You see him, but he doesn’t see you. There’s no time to react, but somehow you do. You leap out of the way a half second early. Congratulations, today you’re not road kill!
How did you do it? Why aren’t you dead?
The reason you’re still breathing probably isn’t your spidey senses. More likely what happened was you saw the vehicle and perceived an immediate threat to your life. Then your brain sent a message down your nervous system to your muscles to activate your ATP (your body’s ready-to-go energy) and caused you to leap free.
So your brain sends signals to your muscles so you can move. But it also sends signals to your adrenal gland around the same time which pumps epinephrine (adrenaline) throughout the body. Some of that adrenaline helps you create ATP for more energy.
Adrenaline also flows to your lungs to increase breathing, to your heart to increase pulse, and to your digestive system to slow down digestion since it’s not necessary right now. Lastly adrenaline gets pumped to your muscles and allows more blood to flow through. All of this leads to your ability to flee fast or engage at full power at a moment’s notice.
Do I Have to Almost Die for Fight or Flight?
What’s interesting is you don’t have to nearly get hit by a car to experience fight or flight. You don’t even have to be in a survival situation at all. All you have to do is perceive a threat. Perceived threats initiate your body’s stress response and boom…fight or flight.
Humans experience fight or flight regularly. Your stress response gets activated all the time. You probably don’t fight bears or dodge bullets every day, but even something as simple as heavy traffic or reading a negative comment on Facebook can get the party started.
Now, you probably won’t have to consider whether you should run or fight when it comes to Facebook, but you should know that fight or flight does more than help you make decisions. Despite the fact your life may not be threatened at all, the response initiates just the same. That means your body goes into overdrive and that can be tough on your whole system.
Fight or Flight a Breakdown of Uses
As we’ve discussed numerous times, survival means continuing to exist for as long as you want to. To find out how long you want to exist you have to set survival goals. Depending on your goals fight or flight may not always be your friend. So let’s check out how fight or flight could help or hinder you based on your goals.
Goal 1: Immediate Survival
It doesn’t matter if you want to live a standard human lifespan or a lot longer. When it comes to your immediate survival fight or flight is usually more useful than not. If you’re threatened by an active shooter your ability to escape quickly or instantly engage your opponent will likely determine whether you live or die. This goes for many natural disasters too.
Sometimes you need to fight and sometimes you need to escape. Either way, it’s good to have your most important systems super-charged and ready to act. When something threatens your life, you don’t have time to be sleepy or off-your-game. You gotta be ready to GO GO GO!
But is fight or flight ever not useful for your immediate survival? Actually, the answer is yes. Once your body floods with adrenaline it reduces your fine motor skills. That means anything that takes precision capabilities such as tying your shoes fast, isn’t happening. Think about it, this is an instinctual response. It involves big action or no action at all, and very little thought.
If you have to draw a picture, solve a math problem, answer a trivia question, or any other thing that’s remotely complicated, you can mostly forget it. That’s why when we train in self-defense we skip martial arts and anything that requires complicated techniques. When fight or flight kicks in, you simply can’t carry out those moves effectively.
Goal 2: Short-Term Survival
Once you go beyond immediate survival you quickly lose benefits. Short-term survival includes living all the way up to a standard human lifespan (SHL), so around 80 years. If your goal is to live a SHL then fight or flight can actually oppose your wishes. That’s because the long-term effects of those short-term bursts of energy and power put a lot of stress on the body.
Have you ever owned a car that you really beat up? Like one where you always sped up fast and drove it like you stole it? Most cars last a pretty long time, even when driven for long periods at higher speeds. But that’s only when those speeds weren’t achieved fast. What I mean is, if you constantly put the pedal to the medal going from 0 to 60, your car won’t last as long.
The more stress you put on a car, the less time the individual parts can last. So the harder you are on it, the sooner you’ll have to replace worn parts due to rips, leads, breaks, tears and other mechanical malfunctions.
That’s kind of like how your body works. Initiating your stress response and flooding your body with adrenaline puts a lot of pressure on your internal systems. Resources deplete faster. Important functions wear and tear at a higher rate. But unlike a car, not all human systems can be replaced (at this time).
Unfortunately, the harder you are on your body, the less time you’ll have to enjoy it. If you constantly initiate your stress response, then you may find yourself at a higher risk of life-threatening diseases at a much younger age. If this happens and you end up with something like cardiovascular disease or cancer, your chances of reaching your SHL goal gets a lot smaller.
Goal 3: Long-Term Survival
Some people want to live a lot longer than the SHL. But it really doesn’t make a difference how much longer than SHL you want to live. The point is, the more you activate fight or flight, the more likely you are to not reach your longevity survival goals.
It Sounds Like I Need to Cut Back on Fight or Flight!
That’s really not far from the truth.
Frequently initiating fight or flight as most humans do probably isn’t the best idea. That said, you still need it for emergencies, disasters, and life-threatening situations. So how do you find balance? Is it even possible to avoid activating your stress response? If so, what can you do?
Most people activate their stress response every day all the time. It’s partially due to lack of awareness and partially due to lack of control. As you go about your day you face many challenges. Heavy workload, deadlines, traffic, people who disagree with you etc. Just about anything that gets you riled up causes your stress response. Depending on how stressed you feel, or how stressful your situation is, your fight or flight symptoms may be heavy or light.
Here are a few ideas that might help cut back on your fight or flight activators:
• Leave early and give yourself extra time to arrive at your destination.
• Clean up your work area so it’s not disorganized.
• Practice breathing as if blowing through a straw for 20 minutes a day.
• Take steps to get a good night’s sleep.
• Avoid watching excessive amounts of television and other media.
• Start an exercise and fitness program to improve your physical functions.
• Implement a healthy diet plan that makes you feel well all the time.
• Seek out reasons to laugh throughout the day.
• Do what you can to always be prepared so others’ emergencies don’t catch you off guard.
If There’s a Stress Response, Do I Also Have a Relaxation Response?
Great question! Actually, the body is said to have a relaxation response and there are ways to trigger it. The Autonomic Nervous System has two sub-systems known as the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. Fight or flight falls within the sympathetic nervous system. This is the system that activates in emergencies to help you stay alive.
The parasympathetic system is the opposite. It works to calm you back down. Anytime fight or flight kicks in, the parasympathetic system battles against it to bring you back down to earth. The result is that both systems actively work against each other which taxes your body and mind. To get the most benefit from the parasympathetic system and your body’s relaxation response, you need to take certain actions before fight or flight ever turns on.
How to Activate the Relaxation Response
If you’re someone who deals with a lot of stress from day to day, or even if it’s not that much but you want it to be less, then here’s a method to activate your relaxation response that might help you out.
STEP 1: Find a quiet, comfortable place to sit.
STEP 2: Shut your eyes or just allow them to relax and gaze forward and down a little.
STEP 3: Relax all of the muscles in your body. Start from toe to head or head to toe. Keep them relaxed.
STEP 4: Let your jaw hang open (relaxed) and just breathe – in through your nose and out through your mouth.
STEP 5: It takes just a few minutes to activate the response. Remain calm and continue for 10 to 20 minutes for additional benefit. Let the worries of the world fall away and don’t worry about whether or not you’re doing it right. If a thought passes by your mind, notice it, then let it go.
After even just a few minutes of this you’ll start to feel better. If you make it a daily practice you can reach high states of alertness and calm. You’ll become more aware and less prone to sudden reactions that throw your system into overdrive. Avoid using alarms during this practice as alarms tend to cause stress.
While there is a ton of stuff that can totally stress you out and cut back your lifespan, and while fight or flight isn’t easy to control, that doesn’t mean you can’t take steps to achieve your survival goals. That’s it for now. I hope this helps you get an idea of steps you might take to improve your life and continue to exist. If you have any suggestions or other ideas, feel free to comment down below.
Until next time!
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Source: Water Bear Lair