The fight or flight response arises in a primitive part of the brain as a safety feature. When danger is perceived, the body readies itself to fight or flee.
If you experience anxiety or panic, you are probably all too familiar with the fight or flight response. It feels terrible. Your heart races, and your muscles tense. You feel like you must escape, or you’ll die or go crazy. Let’s explore the most effective techniques that tame the fight or flight response.
Manage the fight or flight response
Effective management of the fight or flight response requires prevention and actions that eliminate the symptoms of the fight or flight response. Let’s look at techniques to prevent the reaction.
1. Eat well
Good nutrition is vital to reduce anxiety and your body’s sensitive fight or flight response. Irregular eating patterns and sugary foods cause fluctuations in blood sugar, increasing stress. Caffeine and alcohol may make you feel nervous. Complex carbohydrates and proteins improve brain health. Here are some tips:
- Eat fresh, colorful fruits and vegetables
- Include high-quality protein such as lean meat, fatty fish, and yogurt in your diet
- Eat regularly
- Stay hydrated
- Eat whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds
- Avoid fast food, highly processed foods, and refined sugars
- Limit or avoid alcohol and caffeine
2. Get Counseling
Counseling can help reduce your stress level and identify why you experience a fight or flight reaction when danger is not present.
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) teaches you to recognize thought patterns that precipitate anxiety and the fight or flight response. You learn to manage your feelings, reduce panic, and acknowledge that you are safe when experiencing a fight or flight response.
- Exposure therapy teaches you calming skills. It focuses on ways to cope with anxiety-producing situations. You develop strategies for managing your anxiety. For example, if driving is scary, you might work with a coach and begin by simply sitting in a car. You learn how to break down your goal of traveling into manageable steps.
- EMDR, eye movement desensitization, and reprocessing techniques are based on research that shows that traumatic memories are stored differently in the brain than everyday You learn a visual tracking technique that eliminates the emotion associated with a traumatic memory.
3. Get regular exercise
Exercise relieves stress and improves the function of your brain’s natural messengers. They integrate your body, mind, and spirit. Yoga and Tai chi use breathing techniques that are beneficial for stress management. Try Tai chi or yoga if you are reluctant to exercise because you feel anxious when your heart or breathing rate increases.
Techniques to minimize the fight or flight response
Healthy eating, counseling, and regular exercise reduce stress and decrease the likelihood of you experiencing an overactive fight or flight response. However, it’s helpful to have tools to minimize the fight or flight response. Let’s look at some of the best techniques.
4. Concentrate on your senses
Practice present moment awareness whenever you feel the need to be grounded or if you need to regroup for a moment. It’s a powerful, fast technique that you can use anywhere. You’re just going to be observing. Notice, but don’t judge. Use the following steps:
- Take a couple of slow deep breaths
- Look around you. Notice everything that you can see. Be aware of colors, distance, objects, textures, and people around you.
- Close your eyes.
- Now hear all the sounds around you. Listen to your breath if it’s quiet.
- Be aware of your mouth. Do you have a minty taste from gum in your mouth? Don’t judge the tastes. Just be mindful of them.
- Inhale deeply through your nose. Be aware of odors in the environment.
- Notice your sense of touch. What are your body, hands, and feet touching? What does the air feel like that surrounds you?
- Take a couple of deep breaths and open your eyes
One of the quickest and easiest ways to relieve stress is to relax and concentrate on your breath. Try this technique for rapid grounding and stress relief.
- Inhale a deeply while silently counting to four
- gently hold that breath in as you count to four
- slowly exhale to a count of four
- count to four as you remain between breaths
- repeat the cycle three times
6. Use positive self-talk
Negative thoughts arise before the fight or flight response. You can control your thoughts with practice.
Here is an example. Perhaps you feel anxious in a social situation. Your heart starts to pound, and your palms begin to sweat. Before long, you feel panicky. You think,” I’ve got to get out of here. I will probably have a heart attack and die.”
Rather than continuing to listen to the negative thoughts, consciously tell yourself. “I am not going to believe these lies. I know what this is. The sensations feel terrible, but they diminish as I relax. I can change my breathing pattern. I can relax my muscles. I choose to think peaceful thoughts. I’m not powerless.”
7. Use visualization techniques
Use visualization when you feel anxious. However, it’s best to practice the visualization when calm so that it is readily available when needed. Here are some possible visualizations that you can use.
- Imagine the sensations as simply melting by love and connectedness
- Think of the feelings as a deflating balloon.
The key is not to control the feelings but to minimize their power.
You can tame the fight or flight response
Use preventative techniques regularly. Employ stress-relieving techniques at the first signs of anxiety. You will quickly feel better and experience fewer and more manageable fight or flight responses.