Fight or Flight vs Rest and Restore

Have you ever wondered what happens to your body in a stress response? Have you ever been in a dangerous situation where you felt the emergent need to get out and escape? Have you felt your heart racing during a stressful time?


If you have answered “Yes” to any of the above questions, then your body survived a Fight or Flight response.


This response is all possible due to an Autonomic nervous system, called your Sympathetic Nervous System. This amazing system is the real hero in stressful situations. Without this system, the chance of survival seems quite daunting.

Now you might ask… “How does it all work?”


Everything is controlled by a small structure in your brain, called your Hypothalamus. This structure functions as a command centre. When you are in a stressful or life-threatening situation, your hypothalamus will send signals to your Amygdala to activate this autonomic nervous system, which is better known as your fight or flight response. When this nervous system is active, you will have an increase in 2 hormone levels, called Adrenalin and Cortisol (AKA stress hormone).


It is important to note that all of this happens within seconds. You will also experience the following symptoms during this Fight or Flight response:

· Increased heart rate

· Hyperventilation

· Dizziness

· Fainting


This Nervous system is fantastic for survival, however, being stuck in a heightened Sympathetic Nervous system state is not good for your overall health and wellbeing. Long term effects of a heightened Sympathetic Nervous system include:

· Decreased sleep quality

· Delayed healing

· Digestive problems

· Obesity

· Anxiety & Depression


To be honest, it is never beneficial to be in a heightened Fight or Flight response. However, most people have struggled with increased stress and anxiety the past 2-3 years, leading to health problems and decreased quality of life.


So, let’s ask another question… “How do we prevent this from happening?”


You have another Autonomic Nervous System, called your Parasympathetic nervous system. This is an amazing Autonomic Nervous System which helps us to rest, digest and restore.


The Parasympathetic nervous system can help to improve your health and wellbeing. When you activate your Parasympathetic Nervous system, you can have the following results:

· Decreased heart rate

· Decreased stress & anxiety

· Improved sleep

· Improved digestion

· Promoting healing


So, how do we tune into our Parasympathetic nervous system? How do we activate the rest and restore response? How do we decrease our stress and anxiety naturally?

There is a great range of techniques and tools that you can do to activate your rest and restore response, including:

· Practicing mindfulness

· Meditation

· Restorative Yoga

· Breathing exercises – focussed on diaphragmatic/abdominal breathing


Let’s take a moment to thank our bodies for the amazing job that it’s doing to look after us every day. However, let’s also be mindful to be kind to our bodies and listen to its daily needs and focus on decreasing stress by tuning into our rest and restore response.


Elzanne Myburgh

Physiotherapist




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