Fight, Fly or Relax

Psychologists say that in the face of any threatening situation, our natural response is that of either “Fight-or-Flight”. It means that either we get ready to take  the situation  head- on , or we try to fly away or escape.

This tendency is similar to that in the animal world .  Any stressful situation triggers an inborn response, which has been a part of the physiological make up for centuries and is labelled as the “Fight-or-Flight” response.  For example ,a deer  races away at the peak of its  speed on spotting a lion following it. The reader can think of a variety of similar examples in the  world of animals.

As a preparation for a  Fight-or-Flight response in the body, there is an increased blood pressure, rate of breathing ,muscle blood flow and also enhanced heart rate. The internal mechanism of the body makes it ready for the sprint ,so necessary at that time for the survival.

While such readiness of the body is essential for animals, do we, the Humans, really need this kind of response? When a candidate enters the cabin of an interviewer, does s/he need such preparation of the body?  When the boss calls you for an explanation about your ‘goof up’ , why does your heart start pumping restlessly?  …दिल धक् धक् करने लगा  style!! On such occasions, the body does not have to run. Neither  has it to prepare for a physical fight…surely you are not going to do कुस्ती with the boss!

What Humans need ,instead is a response with a calmer mind!. We need to be in control of our thoughts and emotions for an effective response . This is called “Relaxation Response” as opposed to the “Fight-or-Flight” response.

This concept has been beautifully explained by Dr Herbert Benson in his famous book “The Relaxation response”. (Avon Books).

Dr Benson says:  “Fight-or-Flight” response is associated with overactivity of sympathetic nervous system. The sympathetic nervous system acts by secreting hormones like adrenalin which bring about physiological changes like increased blood pressure , heart rate and body metabolism. If the “Fight-or-Flight” response is repeatedly elicited , the result would be chronic hypertension and further complications in the cardiac functioning.  

The “Relaxation Response”, on the other hand, causes a reduction in the activity of sympathetic nervous system and thereby helps blood pressure and other aspects of metabolism to remain at healthy levels.   

The question is : How can we change our response pattern from the “Fight-or-Flight” to that of “Relaxation”? In other words, how do we ‘keep cool’ in the midst of the challenges of life.

This needs a clear understanding of a situation in an unbiased way and our position with respect to that.

We face issues when we want to show more than what we are. There is nothing wrong in being ambitious. The ambition , however , must lead to my own introspection and thereby taking up actions to prepare myself in line with what is desired. This will help me to be confident  in dealing with hurdles on the way of reaching my targets. This confidence will also help me to generate relaxation response rather than being fearful and succumb to Fight-or Flight response .

A sure way to ensure Relaxation Response is regular practice of ‘calming’ the mind..through meditation. There are numerous sets of evidence suggesting that regular practice of mediation has a direct positive impact on the physiological functions. Indeed ,Dr Benson concludes in his book that Relaxation Response is a universal human capacity and as such it can be easily accessed with some discipline. 

On a personal note, I was less than 40 when my BP was shooting up which could not be controlled through a number of medicines that were tried on me. Fortunately, I came across the book I referred to above ..which is what led me to the practice of Rajyoga Meditation. This has had a dramatic impact on me ..for now almost 3 decades.  

I thank Dr Ramesh Kapadia (Ahmedabad) for referring this book to me and Dr Herbert Benson, the author of the book ,for showing me the right path at the right time. I also thank late Shri T P Desai, my boss, who had arranged for the consultation with Dr Kapadia.

I thought of sharing this here in the hope that some of the readers also may benefit out of this concept ,backed by experience.









3 thoughts on “Fight, Fly or Relax

  1. Vikas shirodkar says:

    JLS while the fight n flight concept was well know you have nicely taken it FW n suggested a solution, a way out.
    They say Meditation is a friend request you send to yourself.
    Did not know your BP challenges. Always saw you cool as a cucumber.
    Thanks for a practical simple article

    • Jagdish Shah
      Jagdish Shah says:

      Thanks VS

      As i have mentioned in the blog, the concept is not mine..i came to know about it and tried to use it.

      Your definition of meditation is pretty interesting!. It is indeed a friend request to yourself… and the self also responds!

      When u saw me (as a cucumber), was well after the changes that were taking place in me post 1991!!!!

  2. Sanjay Aphale says:

    Thanks for sharing your real time experience while explaining the concept. I always remember you when I need to calm down and remain in the steady state of wind. Always wondered how you could always have a happy, peaceful and composed mental as well as physical appearance. A lot to learn, for sure. Thanks for penning and sharing this concept. Best regards Sanjay

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