Fight or Flight

The Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) is part of our larger central nervous system that regulates the Fight or Flight and Relaxation Response to stress. The ANS is made up of two parts: the Sympathetic part when triggered activates the Fight or Flight response, and the Parasympathetic, which activates the Relaxation Response.

In a healthy person there is easy movement between these two aspects of the ANS. When one is threatened in any way (even in imagination) the Sympathetic (Fight or Flight) is triggered producing all the necessary physiological reaction to deal with the situation. These include fast shallow breathing, elevated heart rate, muscular tension, etc.

Once the emergency is over the Parasympathetic (Relaxation Response) is activated which calms the system back down to a normal level for healthy homeostasis (balance). One thing to note is that it takes about 7 times as long in the relaxation response mode as it did in the fight or flight mode to return to normal. And here in lies a big problem for people in our culture.

Many people these days live in a continuous state of mild to medium Sympathetic (Fight or Flight) arousal. That is to say they are Sympathetic dominant. As a result they acclimate to the heightened state as normal. This then begins to have a negative effect on their overall health, taxing everything from the cardiovascular system to the immune system.

To maintain a healthy balance between the Sympathetic and Parasympathetic sides of the Autonomic Nervous System it is important to take regular breaks and allow your system to settle down into the Relaxation Response. By practicing you can develop the ability to return to a state of rest and ease with just a few deep breaths.

The chart above shows the action of the Autonomic Nervous System as if it were the movements on a pendulum.

Finished with Fight or Flight, return to Stress.