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Your Fight or Flight Response

The fight or flight response is hard-wired into you. It's nature's way of protecting your life. This response literally mobilizes you to take action when you sense danger.

"Nature also provided . . . the fight-or-flight response. I'm sure you've felt it many times when you were suddenly afraid, when you were sure someone was breaking into the house, or when the plane you were on suddenly dropped as it hit a pocket of air. Before you knew it, you were breathing fast and shallow, your palms were sweaty, and your mouth was dry. The fight-or-flight response means your heart is pounding, your blood pressure is up, your muscles are tense, your pupils are dilated and your skin is covered with goose bumps." Dr. Joan Borysenko

The fight or flight response is a result of an extraordinary system that either excites you or sedates you. It's your nervous system.

There are two parts to it:
1. Sympathetic system
2. Parasympathetic systems

The sympathetic system signals the "fight or flight response". It's the ancient response of your human body to preserve it's own life. You literally inherited it from your ancestors who lived millions of years ago.

Thankfully, it's an excellent reaction to have when there's a real emergency. The fight or flight response, also called the stress response, kicks in when:

  • Your life is in danger or
  • You sense your life is being threatened

Your nerves send data to the brain saying, "Danger. Threat to our life." The brain fires off commands. Hormones like cortisol, adrenaline and others flood your entire body. Your whole body is charged with energy so that you can take action to preserve your life: you are on alert to either fight or take flight.

But your life is not always in literal danger. This response also kicks in when you imagine your life is in danger or threatened. In our modern life this happens when we're chased by past traumas or family events, a busy schedule, paying bills or sickness, terrorism or a combination of things.

This fight or flight response is the origin of stress and anxiety for you, me and every other human being on this planet.

When you're experiencing stress and anxiety whether it's acute or chronic, those wonderful hormones that protect your life also need to suppress your immune system. This is a natural by-product of the stress response but there are downsides:

Too much lowered immunity can cause illness. And you can have mental, emotional and behavioral reactions when under imagined stress that are much bigger than what's actually happening to you.

But there's help. It's inside of you.

It's your parasympathetic nervous system. This turns on the relaxation response and turns off the flight or fight response.

The relaxation response brings a feeling of being unified and coming together.
The fight or flight response makes us feel in self-protective, anxious and scattered.

Flip the switch and flood your body with happy hormones that begin to help you calm down and relax.

It takes commitment and time but, remarkably, you can begin shifting your nervous system from flight-fight mode to relaxation response mode.
Move away from stress and anxiety and towards peace and unity.

Stress relief techniques for pain and stress reduction

Let's shift. And reclaim your calm.

All the exercises on these pages cultivate the relaxation response. There are many ways to turn it on. The most effective way is using your breath. It's your ally.

A self-care moment. Try this:

How to Turn On Your Relaxation Response

  1. Pre-assessment: Assess your stress level before you begin.
    Use a 1 to 10 scale. 1 you feel great. 10 you feel very stressed.
    Where's your stress level right now?
  2. Breathe the complete natural breath.
  3. Inhale slowly, at your own pace, and count from 1 to 10.
    Hold your breath for 5 counts.
    Exhale slowly, at your own pace, counting from 1 to 10.
    Hold your out-breath for 5 counts.
    Repeat this exercise ten times or more.

  4. Post-assessment: Assess your stress level now. Use the 1 to 10 scale again. Where's your stress level now? What do you notice?
  5. Do this exercise as you need to.

Your relaxation response is there to help you. It is the purpose of any stress relaxation technique. Naturally unwind and reclaim your calm.

Beck, M.F., (1988) Milady's Theory and Practice of Therapeutic Massage, Delmar Publishing, Albany, NY, p. 602.
Boryshenko, J. (1987) Minding the Body, Mending the Mind, Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, Inc., Worldwide.

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