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Fight or Flight...A Human Mechanism

Updated on April 22, 2015

It’s bonding time with you and your youngest daughter. The two of you are gorging on popcorn and cupcakes in front of the big screen in the den when you hear a strange noise coming from the kitchen. You know it isn't Mama who has just interrupted you with a call from her school board meeting. You instruct your daughter to wait there while you go into the kitchen to investigate. Upon entering the kitchen, you find a strange ski-masked man wheeling a large knife going through your cabinets and drawers. Even further to your dismay, he has discovered you just as you've noticed your daughter has disobeyed you and followed you into the kitchen.

The intense feelings of both fear and anger began to swell within you. You quickly assess the situation to determine if he is as afraid of you as you are him, or if you and your daughter need to find a quick route to safety. You notice that he has now dropped the knife and appears to be searching for the portal in which he entered. Your heart pounds below your now sweaty chest as the perpetrator stumbles over the step stool and other items that have found their way into the path of his frantic escape.

It is not till later, as the fear and anger begins to subside that you realize the adrenaline rush has hit you like a lion attacking its much needed prey. From the inception of this situation; hearing the noise in the kitchen, to its bitter end; the flight of the perpetrator, the adrenal glands has pumped adrenaline so profusely that is has triggered your most profound survival mechanism… “Fight or Flight”.

I’m sure that everyone is aware that adrenaline is the hormone secreted by the adrenal glands to supply a surge of energy when one is in danger or stressed and needs to take action. Not everyone knows how they work, or that these glands are an essential part of the nervous and endocrine system. They cause the body to react by dilating the pupils to augment more effective vision as well as strive to make an individual more reactive to their current surroundings and more responsive to the adverse situation.

Any situation that triggers an adrenaline rush can be real or imagined. Nevertheless, the adrenal response is very real to the human body. The small gland in the brain called the amygdale gland behaves as an information filter. This filter, by reviewing the human input has three main aspects of its function; attention, value representation, and decision making. So whether an individual sees a “real” fear situation, or a mind “improvised” one, the flight or flight mechanism is directly connected with the amygdale gland. In essence, it’s involvement in fear and stress conditioning does not tell the body whether the situation is real or exaggerated, it simply responds to the initial stimuli.

When there is danger or a stressful situation there is always fear or anger. The only fix is simply to take “action”. The fear stimulus and the programmed response to it are engraved into the amygdale…. “What is going on?” and “How must I respond to it? It performs its job as an alert system to danger by simply omitting any consideration of context, and directs its appropriate response with just “act now”.

To add further understanding, one must also be warned that excessive adrenal hormones can lead to an imbalance and give psychological and emotional problems. If the feeling of stress is not turned into action, these hormones will remain active in your body with the consequences being sleeplessness and constant agonizing worrying. In turn, this will lead to the continual production of adrenaline and the vicious cycle will continue.

Fear is a natural emotion needed to properly react to a potentially dangerous situation. The adrenal glands, along with the aforementioned amygdale gland, are the biological safeguards that trigger the “fight or flight” mechanisms that could possibly saver your life. As added notes, I will reiterate and describe further safeguards pertinent to this discussion.

One, always allow the “trigger” to evolve into “action”. This ensures the adrenal hormones decrease in the body and you can return to a normal relaxed state. Over exertion with adrenaline can literally “wear a person out”, as well as cause the previously mentioned imbalances.

Two, alcohol and certain drugs can produce the adrenal hormones that give the body the same rush experienced when one is real danger. The addicting high that comes from an adrenaline rush is often experienced with the use of heroin, caffeine and cocaine. These drugs create the hormone dopamine which is released through the adrenal glands. If the body already creates an elevated concentration of the adrenal hormone in an adverse situation, imagine the response and reactions with the addition of these hormone producing drugs.

And lastly, whether real or imagined, fear and stress produces adrenaline. Adrenaline rushes are always of great use in sport competitions, online gaming, or in the need to meet critical deadlines. However, too much adrenal hormone can cause illnesses ranging from nerve disorders, to headaches, to ulcers. Seek the advice of a professional or your doctor before infusing adrenaline to increase energy and alertness. In the long run the effects may well be just the opposite inclusive of constant fatigue and mental weariness.


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    • The-Quietwarrior profile image

      The-Quietwarrior 4 years ago

      Thanks Ericdierker...

    • The-Quietwarrior profile image

      The-Quietwarrior 4 years ago

      Thanks Ericdierker...

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 4 years ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Well done, very informative.