How to cope in “Fight or Flight” mode




Do you often feel anxious and stressed?
Do you tend to breathe using your chest rather than your tummy?
Are you in pain?
Do you feel overwhelmed?

If you answered yes to any of these, chances are you’re spending too much time in “Fight or Flight” mode. In this quick 4-minute read, we will go through the differences between our two basic states of being – “Fight or Flight” and “Rest and Digest”. Read on to discover what you can do at home to help and how this fits into physiotherapy.

What is “Fight or Flight”?

Many many years ago (thousands) our nervous system evolved to be able to switch between two modes. The first of these is “Fight or Flight”. Also known as the sympathetic nervous system, this mode is best known for its rush of adrenaline. When in “Fight or Flight” mode, the blood rushes to your muscles, adrenaline is released, and your mind and body are ready to face a threat. It’s now ready to fight or to run aka “Fight or Flight”.

At the time this evolved, the threats we faced were lions, bears, and other super scary stuff. When faced with a threat such as this, our body activated the “Fight or Flight” mode to either defend or preserve itself. An example of this system in overdrive is when someone jumps out at you and you get a huge dump of adrenaline. Your heart races, you’re super alert and you might even feel tingly in the arms and legs.

Are you in “Fight or Flight”?

In modern times we don’t tend to meet a lot of lions or bears. Instead, we have many small threats. Often this is just enough to keep us in a non-relaxed, fight-or-flight state. We sleep through our alarm and run late for work, our boss yells at us, there’s no milk in the fridge and we still haven’t done that thing we were going to do on the weekend. Add on to this rising house prices, petrol over $2 per/litre, and that sore back that won’t go away. Now you have yourself a list of stressors as long as your arm. These add up and, whether you realise it or not, your body feels threatened. When do you get a break from this? Fighting doesn’t work and you certainly can’t (usually) run away from your boss. They say you can run from your problems but you can’t hide. If this is the case, how on earth are we supposed to escape this cycle?

Enter “Rest and Digest”.

The superhero in this story is “Rest and Digest” mode. It is also known as the parasympathetic nervous system. In contrast to Fight or Flight, this system moves blood back to the digestive system, slows down the racing heart, and calms the mind. When the lion or the bear was no longer a threat, we would rest and regain our energy through digestion to prepare for the next threat. In modern life, when we take advantage of Rest and Digest we are better at making decisions and coping with everyday life.

How then do we tap into these systems? The answer: breathing.

What can you do at home?

Try these exercises on your lunch break or at home.

1) Quiet Breathing aka Diaphragmatic Breathing

  • Lie on your back and get comfortable.
  • Place one hand on your chest and one hand on your belly.
  • Gently breathe in through the nose.
  • Notice the rise and fall of your hands. Does one hand rise more than the other?
  • Our aim here is for the hand on your chest to remain still while the hand on your belly rises and falls with your breath.
  • Try to breathe quietly. If someone was lying next to you, could they hear you breathe?
  • Slowly make each breath slower than the last.
  • Continue for 10 breaths.
  • Finally, as you become comfortable with this pattern of breathing, add a little pause after you exhale.

You are now tapping into “Rest and Digest”. Take a moment to notice how you feel.

2) Physiological Sigh

  • Take a breath in through your nose
  • Without exhaling, sniff some more air in
  • Let your breath out through your mouth (relaxed not forced)

This provides a quick kick in the butt to the Rest and Digest system. Try a couple of these in times of stress or at your desk at work. Why not try it now!

How can Physiophi help? and what exactly are we helping here?

Research and experience both tell us that when people are in pain their breathing changes. When pain persists and becomes chronic, often these breathing patterns continue. This feeds the cycle of pain by keeping us in Fight or Flight and ramping up the tension in our body. Before we can retrain the body to understand safe, fearless movement, we need to get out of Fight or Flight. Often I will begin a session with some breathing which allows the body to relax and expose the real underlying issue. 

At Physiophi we have a holistic approach to physiotherapy. This means we tailor our treatment to you as a unique person. To do this requires us spending the time to really listen and understand your pains. From here we can develop a plan together to get you back to where you want to be. Sometimes the first step is just getting you out of “Fight or Flight” and to do this we have to relax. Breathe in. Breathe out.

Please contact us on (07) 3172 4332 to have a chat with our friendly staff or simply book online on: WWW.PHYSIOPHI.COM.AU

Serving Residents of Chapel Hill, Darra, Fig Tree Pocket, Mount Ommaney, and surrounds!

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