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Fight or Flight Response: the Impact of Stress on Your Daily Life

Medically reviewed by Janie-Vi Villamor Ismael-Gorospe, MD · General Practitioner

Written by Fiel Tugade · Updated Apr 21, 2022

Fight or Flight Response: the Impact of Stress on Your Daily Life

Everyone has gone through a stressful situation in life, one way or another. Some may have had to deal with losing a job, while others may feel stressed whenever they try to beat a deadline. Whatever the root cause of the stress, the fight or flight response of the body takes place to help us deal with all these difficult life events. It can make the heart pound and help you get through hard times or, over a prolonged period, it can have a negative impact on your health. 

Understanding the Fight or Flight Response

In response to a life-threatening event, the human body undergoes a series of physical and emotional changes known as the stress response or the fight or flight response. It is a physiological response that occurs whenever a person feels strong emotions such as fear. Fear is a natural feeling that people experience when they are presented with threats or dangers. 

Initially, the fight or flight response dealt with survival, but in modern times, it is much more likely to be characterized by more complicated concerns, such as internal threats. When you are nervous or afraid about everyday events like a presentation, a job interview, an exam, or a tricky social situation, the body activates the fight or flight response through. It does this through the release of hormones that tell us whether we should fight, run away, or even freeze at a given moment. 

When the fight or flight response occurs, you may experience a variety of strong physical symptoms meant to temporarily stimulate bodily function to allow for a quick physical response. Let’s take a closer look at this stress response:

1. Increase in Heart Rate and Blood Pressure

This indicates you’re likely to breathe faster and harder, which aids in the delivery of oxygen and nutrients to your major muscle groups.

2. Pale or Flushed Skin (Increased Sweating)

Because your blood flow is being redirected, you may feel a chill. Or you may notice that your hands and feet are cold and sweaty. As blood and hormones move throughout your body, your face may also appear flush.

3. Compromised Blunt Pain Response

When a person’s sympathetic nervous system has been aroused by conflict or collusion, some people may feel minor injuries only after they are safe and have had time to settle down. This is one of the reasons why persons injured in vehicle accidents usually don’t experience pain until later.

4. Dilated Pupils and Inhibited Tear Glands

Your pupils tend to dilate to let more light into your eyes, allowing you to see more clearly.

5. Feeling on Edge

You’re more alert during stressful events, and, as a result, you’re on the lookout for potentially risky situations. Your senses are in a heightened state of stimulation, and you’re highly cautious of your surroundings. 

6. Memory May Be Affected

Your memories of a stressful situation may be distorted. Your recollections can be vivid and distinct, or they can be hazy. 

7. Muscles Tense for Action

Because stress hormones flow throughout your body, you may feel tense or restless, as if your muscles are trembling or ready to twitch at any moment. 

8. Inhibited Bladder Contractions

In highly stressful or dangerous circumstances, some people may lose voluntary control of their bladder or bowel movements.

9. Increase in Circulation to Brain, Muscles, and Limbs 

There is a need for higher oxygen levels as brain activity continues to change. During a stressful event, you may think less and react more impulsively.

Other physical changes and activities that may take place are as follows:

  • The lungs take in more oxygen and release more carbon dioxide (bronchi dilation).
  • The liver releases extra sugar for energy.
  • Adrenal glands release adrenalin to aid response.
  • Digestive functions of the stomach, pancreas, and intestines slow down (and as a result, you might feel sick).
  • Salivation decreases (due to constriction of blood vessels in the salivary glands).
  • Blood clotting increases.
  • Immune response decreases.

During the fight or flight response, your body tries to prioritize. So anything that isn’t essential for survival is put on hold. Your body, on the other hand, is focusing all of its resources on its most important goals and functions.

The stress response activates in a split second. But the speed with which you calm down and return to your natural condition differs from person to person. It usually takes 20 to 30 minutes for your body to settle down and return to normal.

The heightened level of stress can lead to other physical and mental health issues. This is particularly true when you endure stress for long periods of time.

Key Takeaways

It is normal for people to engage in different stressful occasions, be it at work, school, or any environment it could take place. The fight or flight response helps you combat the stressor during the time being. But it is also important that you learn how to respond to it in your own way. 

Different techniques that may help you through are breathing exercises (relaxation response), physical exercises, and having an effective support system. 

Learn more about Stress Management here.


Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Medically reviewed by

Janie-Vi Villamor Ismael-Gorospe, MD

General Practitioner

Written by Fiel Tugade · Updated Apr 21, 2022

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