• Gina Kendall Lusardi


The fight-or-flight response, also known as the acute stress response, refers to a physiological reaction that occurs in the presence of something that is terrifying, either mentally or physically. The response is triggered by the release of hormones that prepare your body to either stay and deal with a threat or to run.

So what happens to your body During the Fight-or-Flight Response?

In response to acute stress, the body's sympathetic nervous system is activated due to the sudden release of hormones. The sympathetic nervous systems stimulate the adrenal glands triggering the release of catecholamines, which include adrenaline and noradrenaline. This results in an increase in heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing rate.  After the threat is gone, it takes between 20 to 60 minutes for the body to return to its pre-arousal levels.

Some of the physical signs that may indicate that the fight-or-flight response has kicked in include:

Rapid HeartBeat and Breathing

Pale or Flushed Skin

Dilated Pupils


Racing thoughts

Difficulty concentrating

Dizziness or lightheadedness

Nausea / “butterflies” in stomach

Sweating – Tensed muscles

Why It's Important

The fight-or-flight response plays a critical role in how we deal with stress and danger in our environment. Essentially, the response prepares the body to either fight or flee the threat. It is also important to note that the response can be triggered due to both real and imaginary threats.

By priming your body for action, you are better prepared to perform under pressure. The stress created by the situation can actually be helpful, making it more likely that you will cope effectively with the threat. This type of stress can help you perform better in situations where you are under pressure to do well, such as at work or school. In cases where the threat is life-threatening, the fight-or-flight response can actually play a critical role in your survival. The fight-or-flight response makes it more likely that you will survive the danger.

Everyone will experience the fight-or-flight response during some time in their life, to varying degrees. Usually, it's natural, healthy, and not a problem. However, when the fight-or-flight response leads to excessive anger, anxiety, prolonged stress, or other problems, it might be time to intervene.

Most of us are familiar with the fight or flight concept, yet “freeze” is less well known. In fight or flight, the brain triggers the nervous system, signaling the senses to either adopt a defensive response, or to take “flight”. However, in many domestic abuse and sexual assault situations, the brain’s reaction is to disassociate itself during flight mode, or “detach from reality,” often referred to as freezing. This is because the emotions are too overwhelming to deal with in the moment. Some describe this as mentally leaving your body while your body endures the trauma.

Continually experiencing traumatic events or reliving them through memories over time means the brain is constantly having a stress reaction, causing a buildup of the stress hormone, Cortisol. Cortisol in abundance activates the amygdala, the area of the brain responsible for emotions, emotional behavior, and motivation. With continued trauma, Cortisol is triggering the amygdala, which is triggering emotions, which is triggering more Cortisol. This cycle in survivors can often cause extreme reactions varying from aggression to over-sensitivity to complete withdrawal or fear.

– Kimberley Shilson, Psychological Association
“It is a self-perpetuating cycle that leaves survivors with heightened sympathetic arousal (fight or flight or freeze response)”

We know trauma can affect the brain in various ways, and the impact differs from individual to individual. Survivors may experience flashbacks, depression, numbness, nightmares, stress, feeling sick, shame or guilt, and have problems with social isolation, hypervigilance, or feeling overwhelmed all the time. Some even turn to alcohol and substance abuse in an attempt to block out the trauma and its impact.

For those on the outside looking in, it can be difficult to understand a survivor’s actions or reactions, which underlines the importance of understanding how trauma impacts the brain. Studies show that trauma actually rewires the brain, and the cumulative effects of trauma can put survivors in a constant state of overreaction or withdrawal, which can be hard for those around them to understand.

Researchers are now referring to this as PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.)

Healing from a traumatic experience takes time. Everyone heals at their own pace, and it is important to recognize when to seek professional help. For those in a survivor’s circle, it is equally important to educate oneself about trauma, to better understand how to support the survivor through their healing.

To learn more about PTSD after domestic abuse and how to tell if you are in fact suffering from it please click this link: https://www.newlifeticket.com/conditions/ptsd-signs-symptoms/?nltkw=define%20post%20traumatic%20stress%20disorder&msclkid=dbd81b80c390121e61d545d9a81eb6f2


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