The fight or flight response

The 'Flight or Fight' response

The ‘fight or flight response’ is our body’s own protective response to danger and, in essence, it is a mechanism designed to protect us, and not as it feels, destroy us.

Our bodies are designed to respond to danger; we have an inbuilt defense mechanism known as the ‘fight or flight response’, which triggers psychological and physical changes in our bodies.  The release of chemicals can give very real physical symptoms such as rapid heart rate and breathing. These symptoms are designed to give us the ability to ‘fight or flee’ a specific danger, however a panic attack sufferer can feel these feelings intensified and with no present danger.

Why do we have the ‘FOF’ response?

This sudden burst of adrenaline, the increased oxygen and heart rate, gives our bodies increased abilities and sensory perception – which if you need to flee a wild beast or save your family from a burning building will indeed be used to maximum effect. If however you are simply doing your grocery shopping, taking your child to school, or sat watching TV for example, these frightening feelings can be extremely difficult to cope with or explain.

If there is no need to use the excess chemicals; adrenaline or the increased oxygen supply, then our bodies begin to act against us, the decreased carbon dioxide levels in our lungs and blood causes us to feel dizzy and disoriented, we can begin to hyperventilate and a panic attack can ensue.

Dealing with the ‘FOF’ response?

There are two ways to tackle our feelings when this response is triggered, we must look at it from the physical and the psychological.


The best thing we can do is tell ourselves exactly what it is; it is our body’s natural response designed to help us, not damage us. These feelings will not kill us or drive us ‘mad’ as it sometimes feels it will.

Our thinking is impaired at this time and our ability to think logically is reduced, we can get trapped into dead end negative thoughts that can perpetuate these feelings.  If we on the other hand arm ourselves with knowledge we can replace ‘I am going mad’ with ‘The feelings I am experiencing are natural physical responses that will not harm me and they will pass’.


We can do many things to help reduce the effects of the reaction and it’s symptoms. We can do any of the following and see what works best for us:

  • Exercise– moderate exercise can help use up excess adrenaline and use our body as it would be used to ‘fight or flee’ – in other words let it run its course quicker by getting rid of the chemicals naturally.

  • Breathing – in a state of anxiety our breathing can become shallow and rapid, we can hyperventilate – some people find breathing into and out of a paper bag helpful to rebalance the increased oxygen in the body.

  • Visualisation or relaxation- This helps some people unwind, although it can be difficult to switch off enough at this time to fully relax, however taking control over long periods and learning to relax and be less anxious on a day to day basis will help.
  • Eating correctly and taking care of overall health – this is important as the ‘FOF’ response can be triggered by unhealthy eating/sleeping/or other dysfunctional lifestyle habits such as drug taking.


Anxiety, further Help

We hope you have found this information useful, please also see

Anxiety - What Is Anxiety
Fight or Flight Response Explained
Anxiety Symptoms
Anxiety Disorders
Coping with Anxiety – Anxiety Factors
Generalised Anxiety Disorder GAD
Panic Attacks – Anxiety Attacks
No More Panic
Anxiety Treatment 
Anxiety Management – Managing External Stressors
Anxiety Management – Managing our Response to Stress
Anxiety and Debt
Social Anxiety
Anxiety as a Result of Domestic Abuse
Work Related Stress
Anxiety and Substance Abuse
Further Reading

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