Fight or flight or freeze -the threat response, being on red alert
The fight or flight (or freeze) response is useful to deal with an immediate threat or danger, for example to fight or escape from a predator; or perhaps freeze in the case of a baby animal too small to run or fight, wanting to escape the predator’s gaze by keeping still. Fight or flight is when the sympathetic part of the autonomic (automatic or involuntary) nervous system is in charge (rather than the parasympathetic – rest and restore).
The brain becomes aware of danger due to messages received from the senses. Hormones are released and the sympathetic nervous system sends signals to various parts of the body to produce the changes seen below which “turn down” systems not needed immediately and focus on getting blood to the leg muscles for example :
- Adrenaline surges
- Heart and breathing rate increases
- Blood is diverted away from the skin
- Blood diverted to large muscles
- Less saliva is produced causing dry mouth
- Brain on red alert –more sensitive to sounds e.t.c.
- Airways widen to let in more air
- Increased sweating to cool down
- Digestion slows down
- Liver releases glucose for instant energy
- More blood produced and clots more easily
- Immune system suppressed while immediate threat dealt with
When being stuck on red alert is unhelpful
Normally, when the immediate danger or threat has passed, the red alert or threat response should subside, but this does not happen efficiently when hyperventilation becomes chronic. A disordered breathing pattern usually includes chronic hyperventilation, often mouth breathing, and upper chest breathing, with the stomach held in tightly. People frequently have a wide range of symptoms. They are constantly on red alert, even when there is no threat. This condition is sometimes called the “fat folder syndrome” as patients are sent for multiple tests and may have many medical reports in their file. Any system in the body can be affected; nervous, respiratory, immune, circulatory, digestive, musculo-skeletal e.t.c. This adaptation of the body is now not helpful but very unhealthy; it can keep people in pain and discomfort and disability with a very poor quality of life.
- Blood vessels spasm causing high blood pressure, reduced blood supply to the brain and other tissues
- Brain oversensitive to light and noise, anxiety, depression difficulty concentrating, headaches
- Hyperventilating causes chronically blocked nose and dry mouth
- Feel tired and weak
- Heart pounding, racing or erratic- fear of serious illness
- Stomach bloating, IBS, constipation or diarrhea
- Skin pallid, extremities cold,but hot and sweaty palms
- Frequent urination
- Sore muscles
- Dry itchy skin
- Numb, tingling or cold extremities
- Decreased immune response- increased infection?
- Poor sleep
Breathing is such a basic and fundamental need that it is often overlooked by the medical profession with the assumption that “it takes care of itself”. Luckily it can be corrected, and many symptoms are often dramatically reduced. The symptoms can start to reduce once breathing is improved, becomes more relaxed, calmer, gentler, quieter -allowing the parasympathetic rest and restore to dominate and oxygen reaches the tissues more efficiently.
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