What Does Fight Or Flight Really Mean? This Is What’s Happening In Your Brain When You Face Your Fears
Fight or flight: an endowment brought to you by survival of the fittest.
You sense danger, you fight it -- it's literally built into your human DNA.
However, there are the few brave souls out there who say “F*ck that. I am living outside of the confines of fear."
And they actually run toward the danger. They jump off of cliffs. They speak with ease and confidence in front of thousands of strangers.
But facing those fears head-on must be confusing for the brain, no?
After all, your brain is a thriving organ with a natural, programmed tendency to fight for your survival and avoid danger at all costs.
So how can the brain process the fact that you are going toward the very thing it's instructing you stay away from?
Elite Daily spoke with two experts on the matter, and apparently, no matter what it is that represents the danger you're facing, if you really want to do something, your brain adapts to what you want to do.
John Matthews, a mental health counselor, explains,
The 'fight' in fight-or-flight doesn't necessarily mean coming to fisticuffs. It often just means persevering in the face of danger. When skydiving, taking that leap from the plane is essentially a fight, as you have a lot of internal alarms ringing to tell you that jumping from 13,000 feet may not be in your best interest. Neurologically, if you are determined to fight, your brain will unleash a wicked brew of chemicals to help you rise to the occasion.
Matthews goes on to say "you'll feel a boost of adrenaline for energy, dopamine for alertness, and serotonin to help you relax."
These chemicals work together to help "normalize the experience."
So then, Matthew says, after you've faced your fears, you can walk away thinking, "Wow, I didn't know I had it in me."
That explains why people love the adrenaline rush from fear-induced activities like bungee jumping, or trapezing, or even going on roller coasters.
These people aren't crazy -- their brains are simply adapting.
What was once terror transforms into feel-good chemicals.
According to U.S. News & World Report, when you overcome a fear, the amygdala, a part of the brain responsible for fear responses, remains dormant.
Margaret J. King, PhD, director at The Center for Cultural Studies and Analysis, where she leads a think-tank that studies human behavior in cultural context, explains more on the topic.
She tells Elite Daily,
Fear-facing releases powerful adrenaline and other hormone-based chemistry in the brain and body. Facing fears (like public speaking) creates this natural high and can therefore become addictive. It's the fear effect that happens on a roller coaster, or other simulated risk-taking ride; there is a reason this capsule encounter draws fans who ride again and again. For most of us, once or twice every decade is enough. We face down the discomfort of the thrill in order to benefit from its aftermath, which is a sizable release of endorphins.
However, Huffington Post Australia laid out an even more detailed map of exactly what's happening to your brain as you face your fears.
Dr. Muireann Irish, a senior research officer at Neuroscience Research Australia, explained,
A structure located deep in the brain called the hypothalamus sends something akin to a 'distress signal' to the autonomic nervous system and provides the catalyst to a cascade of physiological event.
Plus, according to Irish, both your heart rate and blood pressure increase, your pupils dilate, your muscles tense, the blood vessels constrict, and your immune system is suppressed to preserve energy for vital functions.
The human body is f*cking amazing, dude.
These changes in the body happen so that, overall, you're better able to run, jump, and even see more adequately.
The brain becomes sharpened and alert, ready to lunge into a position of defense at any moment.
To combat this complex process, breathing becomes extremely important.
According to Huffington Post Australia, deep inhales and exhales are key to counteracting the stress response of your body.
But this all goes to show that, no matter what, if you put your mind to it (literally), everything else can fall into place.
Your brain may be designed to fight or flight, but if you want to do the very thing that it's programmed to not allow you to do, your brain will still adjust accordingly.
Really take that in, because it is the scientific blueprint for life.
If you face your fears, you are only empowering yourself -- and your brain, while you're at it.