I would like to cover what the fight or flight response is, as the effects of the activation of this response will become a familiar feeling when you are having issues with Anxiety or Panic Attacks.
When your brain receives any type of signal that you are in danger, it will trigger an Immediate response that heightens all your emotions and spurs you into a reaction that in a real life dangerous situation would help you to save your life. This is because its job is to protect you. This trigger is identified as the Fight or Flight response.
The trouble is when you are suffering from Anxiety and Panic symptoms, this response becomes extra sensitive and tends to activate constantly in situations that are not at all dangerous. This results in uncomfortable sensations within life events that you used to enjoy, but now will avoid to avoid the feelings that this response can create.
The Activation of the fight or flight response in situations where there is no danger, is panics way of actually tricking your brain into believing there is. The response is uncomfortable and triggers all the anxious physical feelings and sensations that you have come to fear.
In a really dangerous situation this response is a really good thing as it causes you to have quick reflexes, react quickly and pumps adrenalin around your body to help you save your life.
Every living creature is capable of this response as they need to have it in built to protect them in times of danger.
This fight or flight response is activated by a part of our brain called the Amygdala
The Amygala is central to activation of this response. Understanding this part of the brain and how its working to try and help you and understanding how the way in which you are reacting to these feelings is actually training it to protect you when it doesn't need to, is in my opinion the key to being able to handle and overcome your.
The fight or flight response is made up of three parts:
- FIGHT: Is it smaller than me and can I fight and win? I will stay and fight or these feelings are so uncomfortable that I will resist them and tense.
- FLIGHT: If its bigger than me or these feelings are too much I will run for my life, I have a need to escape fast.
- FREEZE: I will stay totally still and hope it misses me or these feelings are so strong I literally cannot move.
What is really interesting though is that it's such a fast reaction that we don't have time to think. In fact if we did rely on the thinking part of our brain THE CEREBRAL CORTEX to keep us safe we would probably already be dead as its too slow. Its logical that if we react to a very dangerous situation with thinking first, we would probably not have the time to escape too.
The Amygdala is responsible for activating this response, attaching memory to emotion and storing every aspect of our lives in our subconscious ready to activate at any time it can link our present emotion to something that made us feel this way in the past, It is easy to see how key it is if you train it in the wrong way to keeping your symptoms strong and current by activating everywhere.
If I were to give you an example:
You go to cross a busy main road and step out in front of a car. You have probably a second to jump out of the way before the car hits you.
If you relied on the CEREBRAL CORTEX which remember is the thinking part of your brain, you would have to stop and think first. This would force you to pause for that valuable second that you need to use to jump away and so the car would probably hit you and as a result you may lose your life.
But If you instead depended on the part of your brain that activates the Fight or Flight response The Amygdala which has such a fast onset that you don't have time to think, your body would surge adrenalin and spur you into immediate action, you would use your valuable second to leap into action and jump out of the way of the car and probably SURVIVE UNHARMED.
What is interesting is that it is AFTER the event or uncomfortable feelings is that you feel the symptoms associated with the fight or Flight response, not before and this is really really key to understanding panic and realising that its harmless because in a Panic or Anxiety attack you feel the sensations FIRST and then you react in response to the way that you are feeling.
Another good example would be:
Have you ever driven a car and been in a near miss crash, maybe you had to slam on your brakes as the car in front stopped suddenly as you were driving at speed?
You probably reacted really quickly by slamming on your brakes and grinding to a halt, you will probably notice afterwards that you REACTED WITHOUT THINKING but just after when the dangerous moment had passed, you then became aware of your body reactions or sensations.
You felt the adrenalin, your hands and legs shook and felt weak and your breathing was fast and shallow. This lasted until you calmed down and then passed as the danger had also passed by that point. You are aware of the feelings that this creates and are shocked by them at first but soon after you forget about them and carry on as normal.
When dealing with Panic and Anxiety , we get the symptoms and sensations before we react and 99% of the time there is no dangerous situation. Can you see how you how these symptoms have to be fake as this is not working in the right way as it would in reality? Then you can also see that there is no danger in the situation or the feelings as they cannot be real.