What is the “fight-or-flight” response, and how does it affect the body?



“Fight or Flight,” is a coping mechanism.

Whether we’re aware of it or not, coping mechanisms are a common apparatus utilized by people. Whether this be fidgeting with your fingers, lightly tapping your foot, or even continuously clicking a pen, these are all methods that I’m sure are familiar. 

However, there is another mechanism that not many people are aware of; the “Fight-or-Flight” response. 

According to Merriam-Webster, the definition refers to “relating to, being, or causing physiological changes in the body (such as an increase in heart rate or dilation of bronchi) in response to stress.” 

This is the terminology for the mechanism, but what it actually means can vary. Our bodies tend to transform into this sort of response when it senses events of danger within their vicinity. Either you will choose “flight,”—sprint away from the situation—or “fight,” preparing to face the largest obstacle in front of you. 

Notwithstanding the fact that anxiety is a common disorder, it’s hard to tell when these types of responses started to originate, but one thing is for sure, we do know who discovered it.

According to psychologytools.com, American psychologist Walter Bradford Cannon mentioned this phenomenon in his book Bodily Changes in Pain, Hunger, Fear and Rage and compared it to prevalent behaviors in animals. 

He discussed how sometimes, there is a crossover between the way in which humans and animals react. Just like humans, animals elicit the same response or (hormone) when they sense situations full of tension, such as when predators are nearby. 

Because “fight-or-flight,” is a response that our bodies choose to utilize, it would make sense for it to link up to one of the many organ systems that link up in our body.

It still sends signals from the brain down to the spinal cord to communicate with multiple organs such as the heart, lungs, and so forth.

This response specifically connects to our sympathetic nervous system (SNS), according to verywellmind.com, which actually works the same way as the original. It still sends signals from the brain down to the spinal cord to communicate with multiple organs such as the heart, lungs, and so forth. However, the response can diversify from organ to organ. 

In the heart, our heart rates increase and our coronary blood vessels contract, resulting in a faster rate of blood flow, oxygen, and energy. In the lungs, our bronchi dilate, but the availability of oxygen in the blood increases. 

Now, these are two out of the seven organs used in the (SNS), yet this is how they respond to situations of danger. 

Although being in “fight-or-flight” can be frightening, it’s prevalent in disorders such as (PTSD) in conjunction with panic attacks and other disorders. 

But for someone with such disorders, “fight-or-flight” is actually a tool that has been able to help them.  For example, people that experience panic view “fight-or-flight” as a tool to help fight off setbacks. But for people with anxiety or (PTSD), being aware of the “fight-or-flight” response can help them in precarious situations. 

Regardless of which mechanisms you choose to respond to stress, it’s important to be aware and vigilant about your surroundings. Being alert not only keeps you safe, but it also keeps the people around you protected.