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The Exhaustion of Experiencing the 'Fight or Flight' Response on a Regular Basis

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I believe a lot of people have had an anxiety attack of some sort before. If not, I don’t wish one on you.

Picture this: you wake up to a smoke detector blaring in your house. You smell smoke. Your body instantly kicks into gear — the fight or flight in you — and you jump out of bed. You quickly think of who you have to get out of the house and how. Now!

Or slightly different. It’s 2 a.m. and something wakes you up. You know everyone should be sleeping. You get out of bed, open your bedroom door and you are looking at a robber who is going through things in your living room. Same flight or fight will kick in. How many are in here? Does he have a gun?

From primitive times, our bodies have helped us in situations of danger with a boost of adrenaline and other chemicals to help us physically fight or to physically get the hell out and run. Chemicals to help our brains with clarity. Heart racing, our minds often think of scenario after scenario.

Now picture that feeling — that fight or flight feeling, that rush of adrenaline, the rush of endorphins — but your body is not in any danger. You’re actually just sitting at your work cubical, mid-conversation with a customer. Or you just had Thanksgiving dinner with your family. You know you are not physically in any danger, but your body is pumping out chemicals as if you are in severe danger. And that feeling happens all day long, or several times a day, or several times a week. But you are always in fear of being in fear. Always afraid of the next attack.

In a scenario I gave above, eventually the person who jumps up in the fire will crash from all that adrenaline. Hard. The day of a person with anxiety may also include dealing with adrenal fatigue. People get tired from their bodies always being in a heightened state of danger. It’s so tiring.

Now here’s the kicker. Panic disorder takes away so many things. Going to work. Going out with family or friends. Meeting up with co-workers. You make up different excuses as to why you can’t go this time. Eventually they stop inviting you. And anxiety’s partner in crime, depression, kicks in.

You get sick and tired of being sick and tired. It’s a circle of feeling like you’re going to die and then crying because you feel all alone. It’s calling out of work because you’re in the parking lot and you can’t breathe, then feeling like shit about it afterwards.

No one ever thinks about what happens to a body when fight or flight mode kicks in — especially when there is nothing to fight and nothing to run from. It short circuits everything. And leaves you wishing there was a third option. Fight, flight or write.

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Unsplash photo via Fero Cavani

Originally published: June 5, 2017
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