Posted on: 16.08.2021 Posted by: Drlark Comments: 0

June 11, 2004


Stress and Anxiety

“Fight or Flight”

For most of us, anxiety is an inevitable part of

life. We all encounter everyday, real situations to which anxiety

is a reasonable response. These situations can be as major as death,

divorce, or job loss, or as seemingly minor as going to the doctor

or meeting new people at a social event.

Although anxiety is a very common emotional response,

its expression can take different forms. It varies in intensity

from being an appropriate response to stressful or difficult situations

to being an actual psychiatric disorder. Disorders can occur when

symptoms persist or are severe in nature. Some women have anxiety

symptoms so intense that the symptoms interfere with their ability

to function on a day-to-day basis.

While most women experience anxiety as upset and

distress, we also react to these upsetting feelings on a physical

level. What actually happens to our body when we are feeling anxious,

nervous, or even panicky? Anxiety feelings normally set off an alarm

reaction in our body called the “fight or flight” response.

This response occurs to any perceived threat, whether it is physically

real, psychologically upsetting, or even imaginary. The “fight

or flight” response is a powerful, protective mechanism that

allows our body to mobilize energy quickly and either confront or

escape from danger.

The “fight or flight” response begins

in our nervous system, which consists of the brain, spinal cord,

and the peripheral nerves. It is divided by function into two parts:

the voluntary nervous system and the involuntary (or autonomic)

nervous system.

The voluntary nervous system manages activity in

the conscious domain. For example, if you place your hand on a hot

stove, pain fibers will trigger a response that is sent to the brain.

The brain then sends back an immediate response telling you to move

your hand away before you burn yourself. You respond quickly to

the message, pulling your hand away.

The autonomic nervous system regulates functions

of which the average person is usually unaware, such as muscle tension,

pulse rate, respiration, glandular function, and the circulation

of the blood. This system is divided into two parts that oppose

and complement each other: the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous

systems. These control the upper and lower limits of your physiology,

respectively. For example, if excitement speeds up the heart rate

too much, the parasympathetic nervous system’s job is to act as

a control circuit and slow it down. If the heart slows down too

much, then the sympathetic nervous system’s job is to speed it up.

A “fight or flight” response stimulates

the sympathetic nervous system, triggering several different physical

responses. Our adrenal glands increase their output of adrenaline

and cortisone as body chemistry adjusts to meet the crisis. The

outpouring of these hormones causes the heart and pulse rate to

speed up, the breathing to become shallow and rapid, and the hands

and feet to become icy cold. In addition, muscles tighten up and

become tense and contracted. The sympathetic nervous system also

triggers the release of stored sugar in the liver, an increase in

the metabolic rate of the body, inhibition of digestion, and an

excess secretion of acid in the stomach—all in response to

feelings of anxiety and stress.

Read More on Anxiety and Stress:

Getting Started

“Fight or Flight”

Systems in the Body Affected by Anxiety

Quiz: How Balanced are Your Neurotransmitters?

Keep it SIMPLE tip — Think Good Thoughts

Nutritional Therapies

Restore Your Ability to Manage Stress

with a Stress-Reducing Diet

Restore Your Ability to Manage

Stress with Stress-Reducing Supplements

Replenishing the Pathways

Sugar Causes High Anxiety

Complementary Therapies

The Sponge Yoga Pose

Reduce Stress with Reflexology

Aromatherapy for Relaxation



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