Like most things in this life, anything worth having comes at a cost. This rings true in the context of the fight or flight response. This subconscious survival response has played it's part in keeping us and our ancestors safe through time but there have been some costs to our health, both physically and mentally. We will take a look at both in this post.
As we have already seen, some of the feats the human body and perform when this response kicks in are quite breath taking, and often times unbelievable. The increased speed, strength, endurance and pain resistance that the epinephrine induces comes with a pretty big side effect. Like any high performance machine, the body can only work at this turbo boosted level for a limited period of time. Once the immediate danger has passed or the large amounts of glucose released into the system are used up, you are left feeling an extreme level of exhaustion. You're likely to feel light headed and barely able to move or exert any force. This is the dreaded "adrenaline dump".
The effects of an "adrenaline dump" are quite temporary, with bodily service resuming once normal levels have been restored. A sports drink containing simple sugars can help to replenish the vast amounts of glucose used up and increase recovery
Perhaps the most damaging effect that this survival response can have on the body is its role in the anxiety disorder PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). PTSD is a disorder that can effect people that have gone through times of extreme stress and trauma such as war and natural disasters. PTSD is caused when the sufferer mentally re-lives the experience causing their fight or flight response or parts of it, to be constantly switched on. The effects of this can be crippling, not only mentally but physically. Nightmares and phobias of places that trigger memory of the trauma are common, there is also the possibility for the loss of emotion too. Physically, hyperarousal often manifests and leads into loss of sleep as well as the possibility of hypervigillance. Prolonged activation of the response can also lead to complications with the sufferers immune system.
Although this condition has been around a long time, relatively little is known of it and we are still searching for a better understanding. At the current time, the best responses to patient recovery have come through group and individual psychotherapy. There are also a few pharmaceuticals on the market that can help ease some of the symptoms.
- Allen D. Leth, Jr. (2009). "The relationship between Post Traumatic Stress and physical fitness and the impact of Army fitness policy on Post Traumatic Stress prevention". U.S. Army Command and General Staff College.