Our fight or flight response is an evolutionary mechanism that protects us from danger. Your nervous system temporarily increases your heart rate, blood pressure, and concentration to power your reaction to threats. But sometimes our nervous system goes haywire and can’t switch off from high alert.
When you’re stuck in fight or flight, your body can’t differentiate between real and perceived threats. If you’ve experienced trauma, the fight or flight response can operate on overdrive when the brain interprets certain stressors as constant — trapping you in a prolonged state of flight or fight.
Let’s say you had the misfortune of injuring yourself in a car accident. Months, even years later, your heart and thoughts may race each time you’re in the driver’s seat. The accident is imprinted in your memory, and that’s enough reason for your brain to continually mount its defenses. Persistent fears due to factors such as financial, relationship, and work difficulties can also cause your nervous system to sustain fight or flight.
Consequences of being stuck in fight or flight
Fight or flight is meant to be a quick response to danger. In those moments, your brain releases cortisol, known as the stress hormone — it propels you to act in what could be a life-threatening situation.
Cortisol slows bodily functions, such as digestion, that are not essential to face the stressor. But once the real or perceived danger has subsided, it’s important for cortisol levels to decrease. At this point, your body has returned to homeostasis, also known as rest and digest mode. Your body is now focused on routine maintenance — regulating hormones, flushing toxins, making new cells, digestion, and more.
But when you’re in a constant state of responding to stress, you can’t recover. So, fight or flight becomes your new baseline.
Signs you’re stuck in fight or flight
- Constant anxiety and feeling you can never relax.
- Intense reaction to inconveniences and annoyances you would ordinarily find only minorly irritating.
- Unexplained fatigue — staying in flight or fight uses a lot of energy.
- Gut issues such as cramping, constipation, bloating, and stomach pain because your digestive system isn’t getting what it needs when you’re in flight or fight.
- Hormonal imbalances are evidenced by symptoms such as low sex drive, unstable weight, digestive problems, and fatigue.
How you can end the cycle of fight or flight
- Mindful Breathing Exercises – When you feel panicked, breathing exercises that focus on producing slow, controlled, and deep breaths can be grounding.
- Integrate Exercise and Meditation – Exercise can be great for managing stress. Add meditation techniques to kick it up a notch. Match your breath to your steps while you walk or move with your inhales and exhales during a yoga sequence. Focus on how your body feels during activity, instead of on troubling thoughts.
- Collaborate with a Health Care Professional – Work with a mental health professional on stress management and boundary setting. Sometimes we overextend ourselves because we feel we can’t say no, even when we don’t have energy or time.
- Explore Truvaga as a Comprehensive Stress Management Tool – As part of a holistic approach, Truvaga provides a complete or complementary stress management solution with convenient 2-minute vagus nerve therapy sessions.
Remember, breaking the cycle of fight or flight is a journey, and incorporating these strategies can pave the way for a more grounded and resilient mindset.