"It is not the mountain we conquer but ourselves." - Sir Edmund Hillary
Of all the things that affect me negatively on a regular basis it's the fight or flight response. By the way, we all share this response. Some of the ways the fight or flight response manifests itself, at least in me is, like, in the past when I have found myself raging at a guy who cut me off on the freeway and then, an hour later, still being pissed off at the guy. Does this happen to you too?
The fight or flight response is really a protection device of the finest quality. It is your body's primitive response to a perceived threat or danger. You see, eons ago when we were being chased as dinner by saber toothed tigers, it gave us the energy to run fast, to scamper up trees and to use rocks and other weapons at hand to defend ourselves. It also gave us the reflexes and power to fight off unfriendly humans that wanted to take away things from our camp like our food or wives and children. When you are in real physical danger this is the absolute perfect way for your bodies to respond.
Let's examine how the fight or flight response affects your body. When activated, you receive a huge surge of adrenaline and other stress hormones throughout your body. These naturally supplied stimulants have resulted in mothers having the strength to lift cars off their trapped children. They also give the corpsmen the extra speed and courage to run to the aid of a fallen soldier in battle. This adrenaline rush supplies you with the chemicals you need to help you escape from threats to your life as well as protect the lives of your loved ones.
Scientist that have studied the fight or flight response have found that the release of these stress hormones cause some pretty drastic things in your body. These chemicals speed up your heart rate, slow down your digestion and reroute your blood flow from the stomach and peripheral systems to your major muscle groups, like your back and legs. Your pupils dilate as a method of sharpening your eyesight. You perceive things more quickly and clearly as you become more intensely focused. Your bodies can become impervious to pain. Your autonomic bodily functions are enhanced which can throw your immune system into overdrive to fight off the infections you might receive as a result of injuries. Your body becomes prepared both physically and mentally, to engage either to fight the threat or to run away. This response can give your body explosive power and superhuman strength. You become as prepared to run or fight as a human can possibly be.
The Problem with the Fight or Flight System
When you face real dangers to either your physical survival or the survival of a loved one, the flight response is essential. If your house catches on fire this response will help you get out safely. If your child begins to run out into the street you'll run and catch them before they can hurt themselves. If a gang of Outlaw Bikers comes into a bar you are in it will prompt you to leave. The problem with the fight or flight response is that most of the events you encounter in your daily life don't threaten your physical survival.
Unlike the real threat of a saber tooth tiger, today your fight or flight response can be triggered during arguments with your spouse or when you talk to a woman you haven't met before. It can be triggered because traffic is stalled and your boss told you you'd be written up if you were late to work again. If funds are low and your car is making that same strange noise it made when it cost you over $1000 last time the response is triggered. Maybe, like me, a guy cuts you off or someone seemed to drift into your lane almost knocking you off your motorcycle. When events like this occur your fight or flight system can be activated and cause your body to secrete too many stress hormones.
When you activate your fight or flight system the hypothalamus, your primitive reptilian brain, initiates a sequence of nerve cell firing and release chemical chemicals that prepare your body for running or fighting. Because this is a primitive system of the mind, it bypasses the conscious or rational part of your mind, the part of the mind that you think with, and moves you into a deeply unconscious fight or run away craze. At this point you begin to see almost everything in your environment as a possible threat to your survival.
Now that your body is all hyped up you have a tendency to perceive everyone and everything as a possible enemy. You are on the look out for every possible danger, just like a Special Forces combat veteran on patrol. The slightest comment might set you off. You may become fearful of the most ordinarily or innocent event. Your brain may begin to "turn off" some of its rationality, causing your thinking to become distorted. Your whole body mind system becomes stressed. This stress causes your brain to "think fuzzy". Instead of being able to analyze and respond to events rationally, your fears cause you to react instantaneously in ways that are much less than beneficial. When fear becomes the lens through which you see the world you become powerless to control your mind against your primitive reactions. If this stress is allowed to continue unchecked for a long period of time it can kill you.