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If Anxiety Is 'Fight or Flight,' I Choose to Fight

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Fight or flight. As a sufferer of anxiety it’s the most common phrase I hear from doctors and friends. I’ve heard this term so many times it barely has any meaning to me anymore. People with anxiety constantly get labelled the “flight” type of person,  like we run away every time a new situation comes up. Now every time I hear “fight or flight” I immediately zone out. Not because I don’t think it has value, I do, but because I believe people with anxiety do both on a daily basis.

To people not living with anxiety, it may seem like the common response of a person with anxiety is flight, but you have no idea how much effort and fight it took for that person to even get to that point. As I’ve said before, we all have different anxieties. For instance, I am fine when it comes to flying on a plane, but for others it can be completely terrifying. You might see that person get off the plane or leave the airport because of their anxiety, that’s the flight part. But what you didn’t see was how that person booked the plane tickets, packed their bags and drove to the airport. That is them choosing to fight, against all their instincts they are fighting their anxiety.

So why do we choose to focus on the times we choose flight and not the things that we accomplished when we were fighting? Sometimes you don’t even know that what you’re doing is fighting. Every time you hear that voice in your head telling you to flee and you  fight it, it makes you stronger and more confident. I can tell you from experience that when you’re at you lowest point, confidence is key. Start small, even if it’s just going out to your mailbox to get the mail. Every little thing you do builds up your confidence and soon you’ll be doing things you never thought you could do weeks or months ago.

A few months ago I couldn’t leave my house, and I actually couldn’t be alone either. First we would have my parents leave for 10 minutes, then 20, then 30, then one hour and eventually I could be alone at home be myself for a whole work day. After training myself like that I wasn’t afraid I would have a panic attack without someone there. A few months ago if you said this is where I would be, back to being able to drive alone, going into shopping centers and inviting some of my closest friends over, I wouldn’t have believed you. But every little step helped me to become more confident in myself and fight my way out of the depression I had fallen into.

Yes, there will still be times when you flee a situation instead of choosing to stay and “fight,” it’s in our DNA. Our anxiety is a survival mechanism, but that mechanism doesn’t work the same for us as it did our ancestors. When we grew as a species, we all found new things to be scared of. Instead of being attacked by ferocious animals, it became a fear of public speaking and stage fright. Instead of a fear of starvation, it turned into eating disorders and body shaming. Times may be easier now with all the luxuries we have, but that doesn’t make our fear responses any lesser than those of the cavemen.

So little steps, that’s the key. Confidence will develop overtime, so long as you focus on the things you fought and conquered. We all deserve to live in a world where we feel safe and in control of our own happiness.

Don’t give up. Keep fighting. Win.

Originally published: May 4, 2016
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