The fight-or-flight response, also called the fright, fight or flight response, hyperarousal or the acute stress response, was first described by Walter Cannon in 1915. His theory states that animals react to threats with a general discharge of the sympathetic nervous system, priming the animal for fighting or fleeing. This response was later recognized as the first stage of a general adaptation syndrome that regulates stress responses among vertebrates and other organisms.
I think I first became aware of the Acute Stress Response when I was in my early teens. Being aware of your moods is something that comes later with kids – certainly the ability or perhaps the desire to control them is something that must be developed or learned. Some children may be naturally placid, some may be more prone to expression. In my experience, stress manifested with blushing, butterflies in my stomach and a sore neck. It was obvious to me that I had a physiological need to do something but the rational mind was preventing this. It is this ‘rationality’ that distinguishes us from animals but there is also an argument that it is not always an advantage and that allowing emotion to be expressed without fear of retribution is something we should aspire to especially considering the results that logic and rationality (very masculine concepts) have garnered for us.
Different people respond to stress differently.
In current times, these responses persist, but fight and flight responses have assumed a wider range of behaviors. For example, the fight response may be manifested in angry, argumentative behavior, and the flight response may be manifested through social withdrawal, substance abuse, and even television viewing (Friedman & Silver 2007).
I’ve witnessed the fight response in real life – and though thankfully these days it’s uncommon to see physical aggression on the street – it’s altogether too common to see the results of domestic aggression ‘hidden’ by make-up, glasses and bravado.
Some people argue (and cannot be swayed), others are destructive in action or emotion ( passive aggressive behavior).
Conflict avoidance isn’t always the solution though it is more socially acceptable response to acute stress. Ignoring the problem (again a passive aggressive behaviour) or procrastinating while the issue is present are not constructive ways to deal with the issue.
It’s interesting (to me) that television (and presumably shopping, the Internet, playing games and immersion in social networks) are a flight response.
Fight/Flight evolved as a physiological response to environmental pressure. In terms of physiology, humans have not changed in thousands of years yet even within the last two hundred years we have gone from being a tool-using species relying on beasts of burden with an extremely local reach to technology users, reliant on external manufactured portable power with a global reach. Our environmental pressures have also changed to the extent that our failure/success is more dependent on the actions of others rather than our own merit. Livelihoods and homes can be lost due to bad decisions in the housing market, jobs lost due to a change in consumer opinion, fortunes made on the speculation of future markets and we’ve, for the most part, reduced our reliance on one human year of effort being suitable to support one human family.
Our society and culture has out-evolved our physiology. What should be the modern response to Acute Stress?