Slow Motion Fight or Flight

Most of us know the meaning of the term “fight or flight”. Otherwise known as the startle pattern, it’s when your whole system goes into preparation for a life threatening event. What is lesser known are the internal ramifications of such a bodily response. Let’s look at the internals which just might help explain some of your health ailments and then we’ll contrast this with your physical appearance. You might be in for a bit of a shock.

Automatic Self Preservation

As a primitive human being, there were many dangers in every day life. Our evolution towards the top of the food chain took quite some time through learning the hard way. Our self preservation is facilitated largely by an internal, learned system of chemistry that doesn’t require our thinking. It’s completely automated and brings our entire being into a state of readiness to choose the next step, either fight to live or run to survive.

The initial chemical reaction internally triggers all kinds of physiological responses that include raising the heart rate, blood pressure and blood glucose. Blood is pumped urgently to the large muscle groups and that feeling of being chilled is due to blood/warmth leaving our skin. Perhaps the most interesting change is that our digestion is shut down as a non-essential task. Who needs an empty stomach when they’re dead? The immune system is also put on hold for the same reasons.

Could This Explain Chronic Sickness?

Are you prone to infections, colds or unable to shake the cough and runny nose? Do you have digestive issues? Perhaps both are being regarded as “non-essential” by your sympathetic nervous system override due to stressful circumstances in everyday life.

Some of the instinctive physical reactions which are also completely out of our control are hunching the shoulders and tightening our neck, plus goose bumps and other strange facial expressions. If you have ever seen someone get a big fright, you’ll notice the telltale pattern of shoulders being pulled up around the ears and the whole body coiling together like a large spring. This remarkable domino effect is then released violently as the body springs outward in relation to the stimulus. Uncontrollable arm movements and even falling over can occur as random contractions take over.

Fight or Flight as Posture

However, it’s the contracting of the neck and shoulders that is of interest in my work, because you can look around the office or any primary school and see it mirrored in the way people use their bodies all day. Are we in mortal danger sitting at a desk or watching tv?

Children sitting cross legged with neck and shoulders contracted.

Children sitting cross legged with neck and shoulders contracted.

Probably not, but our physical appearance depicts a similar internal physiology. Children sitting cross-legged on the ground show a frightening amount of neck/shoulder contraction.

Admit it... we spend a large part of the day trying to correct this habit.

Admit it… we spend a large part of the day trying to correct this habit.

Here’s my thinking…

This all-day, every-day physical composition of our body is replicating the fight-flight pattern of inward contraction prior to the spring. If the head and neck is held in this contracted position for long periods of time, could it in fact be creating a slow-motion-startle-pattern? Rather than an immediate and imminent danger, perhaps the body is being placed into the startle pattern by habit.

If the way we are sitting is contributing just a small amount, could this explain the stress symptoms of working at a desk? Putting physical symptoms aside (e.g. RSI, Carpal Tunnel, Headaches etc) would it help explain why your chemistry is behaving “as if” there was a constant danger?


Leave a Reply