Fear – Fight or Flight

The Stress Response.

Fear is a very useful, natural human reaction and we certainly wouldn’t last long without it. When we are in danger, it is important that our bodies react in a way that will enable us to deal effectively with the situation.

So what happens when we experience fear?

How would we feel, in the middle of the night, if a bogey man jumped out of the wardrobe, dagger in hand?!

Fortunately, we don’t have to think too hard, because in that situation our bodies will automatically release certain hormones that trigger the “stress” response. These hormones prepare our bodies, either to stay and fight or flee from danger.  It is essential that our muscles have the necessary energy to protect us from the threat. So our bodies tense; our hearts beat faster for extra blood flow; we breathe more rapidly, for more oxygen, and have butterflies in our stomachs etc.

If we decide to fight; leaping from our beds with a blood curdling scream, clobbering the bogey man unconscious with the bedside lamp; or run as fast as we can out of the room; the extra hormones we have produced are quickly used up. The body fulfils its natural function and soon returns to normal.

However, many people suffer fear and have the symptoms of anxiety, in situations where they imagine a threat to be far worse than it actually is. When we believe there is potential danger our bodies prepare us for it, by releasing the stress hormones in just the same way as when we are faced with an immediate threat.

Consider the following example:-

It’s a snowy winter’s night, but you are safe and snug in your house. The curtains are drawn, you’ve just had a warm bath and you are in your dressing gown making a hot drink before bed. The radio is playing relaxing music and you are winding down after your day.

As you prepare the drink you notice the air has become slightly chilly and you feel an unexpected draught. You are just looking around to see where it may be coming from, when there is a loud click that makes you jump. You laugh as you realise that it is just the central heating switching off and go back to what you were doing. But then there is a second noise…what’s that? Your body is more alert, you turn the radio off and listen more intently. It sounds as though there is someone upstairs. You can definitely hear movements. As you go into the hallway the sounds become louder.

Convinced that there is an intruder, a burglar or maybe even a murderer. You grab a walking stick for protection and begin to creep up the stairs. Your heart starts to race, your cheeks become flushed. You suddenly feel very dizzy, as though you will faint where you stand. At the point when you become certain you can’t tolerate the fear, there is a loud thud and your cat scoots out of your bedroom and down the stairs. On further investigation there is no burglar, no murderer and no need to be frightened.

There is also no need to flee or fight, so the extra hormones produced by your body are now not required and they remain unused. This means that until your body has time to stabilise you will have an excess of the stress hormones, adrenaline and cortisol, in your system and this can take a toll on your health.

Contrary to popular belief, anxiety does not arise directly out of dangerous or painful situations. Anxiety actually arises out of your thoughts.

This example demonstrates what is often described as the abc model of anxiety.

(a) The situation….gives rise to….. (b) The thought……which in turn causes…

(c) The anxiety.

(situation – thought – anxiety)

In any given situation, it’s the thought of potential danger not the actual danger that produces the symptoms of anxiety.

This is actually, very good news, because it means that it is possible to ease unwanted feelings of anxiety by training ourselves to control our thinking.

And with hypnotherapy to help you, changing your thinking is easier than you think it is!


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