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Mental HealthRecovery

Fight or Flight: When the Anxiety Wheel Spins

By October 3, 2011No Comments
Fight or Flight ResponseImage by jpmatth via Flickr
Why are our kids so stressed out? Is it the pressures of school and peer relations or is there something else going on? Sure, stress is a naturally occurring phenomena that can help and/or hinder someone, depending upon the situation. There are surely instances where the slight adrenaline rush of stress can actually prove beneficial, but when it’s constant and unyielding, stress can be overwhelming. The body’s natural fight or flight response occurs when stress is introduced, allowing us to ready ourselves for “battle,” so to speak. That “battle” can be an exam at school or even a mild confrontation on the school yard, but it’s usually temporary. “Fight or flight” is a term used to describe the body’s natural physiological response to stress. The Genetic Science Learning Center at the University of Utah has a wonderful example (see it here) showing the physiological changes that occur!

The qualities of the fight or flight response include:
  • Increased heart rate
  • Faster intakes of breath
  • Enlarged pupils
  • The digestive system slows
As I noted, these particular physical changes occur naturally when the fight or flight response is triggered. In small doses, it’s appropriate and helpful, but as with anything, remaining in the a state of fight or flight for a long period of time can create untenable stress as the body and mind begin to work against itself. You know unpleasant but often typically temporary feeling of having “butterflies in the belly”? Well, imagine it lingering for a long time: It would become more and more difficult to ignore.

Some kids, and perhaps these are the one’s enduring sustained periods of stress, the fight or flight phenomenon happens without warning, and without a clearly identified trigger fueling the body’s response. For these kids, the sense of deep worry and impending doom are a prevalent and may often seem unwarranted. This is anxiety, and with it comes:
  • Tightness in the chest
  • Stomachache
  • Dizziness
  • Dread
  • Worry
Anxiety can have a genetic component, for example, mom or dad, grandma or grandpa, et cetera, may suffer from anxiety. Anxiety can also occur after an extremely stressful event: childhood trauma, divorce, loss, a car accident. Some kids are clearly more sensitive than others and may very well react intensely to something another child can walk away from. Rather than shaming them about their reactivity, we need to offer them solace. These kids need as much support as possible, not only from parents, but from clinicians trained to help sufferers manage their anxiety. It takes time, dedication and hard work, but in time, one will have many healthy tools to choose from, hopefully avoiding the dead-end path to addiction. 
Articles used as reference and for more information:
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