The Nature of Stress and Anxiety – Part 1: Flight-Fight
Stress is a normal and healthy reaction. It describes a series of changes in the body and in the way we think and behave which enables us to deal with threat or danger; changes which can be very useful if you have to respond very quickly.
These changes are often referred to as the flight-fight response and it accounts for the many and varied feelings you can experience when you are anxious. In our minds we feel fear, apprehension; we are on edge and worry a lot. In our bodies we experience a number of sensations:
- muscle tension
- racing heart
- cold and clammy hands
- fast breathing
- dry mouth
- hot flashes or chills
- butterflies in the stomach
The flight-fight response is useful in the short term especially if the danger can be avoided by physical exertion. However, it is of little use in the long-term and is of little use in most situations we encounter on a daily basis. Stress becomes a problem if it occurs in situations where there is no real danger or if it continues long after the threat has pasted. Some of the results of feeling anxious over a long period are:
- trouble keeping your mind on what you are doing
- urinating too frequently
- trouble falling or staying asleep
- difficulties concentrating due to worry
The only part of the flight-fight response useful today is the mental alertness stress provides. Stress helps you perform any skilled activity. To do anything well you need to be alert, anxious to do well or psyched up. Stress in moderation is a drive that can work well to make you more efficient.
People who experience difficulties with stress tend to avoid this healthy stress and hence limit their ability to do their best.
The relationship between stress and skill is shown below.
Find out more about the role of breathing and stress in my next post!