Fight or flight?

We’ve all heard the phrase ‘fight or flight’, but do we really understand what it is and what it means for us today?

Our fight or flight response is linked to our sympathetic nervous system which is designed to give us the focus and energy we need to escape danger. When this response is triggered we will experience physical changes within the body; an increase in heart and breath rate, a rise in our bloody glucose level and an increase in levels of the chemicals: epinephrine and norepinephrine which further increase energy, strength and physical performance. Obviously, in the past when humans had to deal with hunting wild animals, battles, wars and natural disasters these changes were necessary and certainly helpful, but both humans and society have evolved. These days the types of threats we experience are very different and not necessarily ones from which fight or flight is appropriate. These days our threats are less morording animals or angry men in armour and more looming deadlines, financial worries, health concerns or difficult relationships. Our fight and flight response isn’t only trigger in the face of these new threats but also by thinking of them by either ruminating on past negative experiences or worrying about future ones not to mention dealing with current ones we can create a state where our sympathetic nervous system is constantly activated.

Many professions including teachers work within a system that means our sympathetic nervous system is constantly activated creating chronic anxiety or stress, over time this will lead to both a physical and mental impact on the body.

Physical Impact of Chronic Stress:

  • Decreased immunity
  • IBS
  • Muscle tension/pain
  • Chronic headaches/migraines
  • Chest pains
  • Fatigue
  • Obesity
  • Low sex drive
  • Low energy
  • Menstrual problems
  • Skin or Hair problems
  • Type 2 diabetes

Mental Impact of Chronic Stress:

  • Depression/Anxiety disorders
  • Brain fog
  • Constant worrying
  • Sleep problems
  • Irritability or anger
  • Low self esteem
  • Difficulty relaxing
  • Mood swings
  • Social withdrawal
  • Over or under eating
  • Loss of motivation
  • Substance abuse

So how can we combat this? Well just like we have a ‘fight or flight’ response triggered by our sympathetic nervous system, we also have a ‘rest and digest’ response triggered by the parasympathetic nervous system. This response focuses on conserving energy and replenishing our systems. Just like with the ‘fight or flight’ response there are physical changes that take place within the body; muscles relax, heart and breath rates slow, digestion is increased. In order to combat the effects of chronic stress we need to intentionally interrupt the perpetual cycle of ‘fight or flight’.

Triggering Rest and Digest

Engaging in some of the following activities as either micro breaks through out the day or macro breaks once or twice a week with help to intentional trigger your ‘rest and digest’ response:

  • Repetitive sports such as walking or running
  • Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR)
  • Yoga
  • Craft activities: knitting crocheting or art
  • Playing musical instruments
  • Meditating
  • Breathing exercises

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