Sai was discussing her performance review with her manager. As he started assessing her failures, she wanted to fight back and argue. Instead, she withdrew into herself and fumed inwardly. She was displaying an aspect of the fight-or-flight response.

Ram was feeling extremely stressed. His boss wanted a particularly challenging presentation to be completed within a very tight deadline.  Ram started sweating and felt dizzy. He was suffering from the flight-or-fight response.

What Is The Fight-Or-Flight Response?

American physiologist Walter Cannon was the first to describe the fight-or-flight response in 1915. When dealing with a threat, he found out, a chain of reactions take place in the body.

The fight-or-flight response is also known as an acute stress response. It’s a physiological reaction that occurs when one is faced with a mentally or physically tormenting situation.

The definition of the fight-or-flight response is ‘an automatic physiological reaction to an event that is perceived as stressful or frightening.’ If the fight-or-flight response occurs frequently, it might lead to a clinical condition such as anxiety disorder.

Physiological Symptoms Of A Flight And Fight Response

The amygdala and hypothalamus are both parts of the brain. When you feel threatened, the amygdala alerts the hypothalamus, which in turn alerts the body via the nervous system.  When this happens, adrenaline, the fight-or-flight hormone, is released into your bloodstream.

When this fight-or-flight hormone starts flowing through your body, it triggers various physical responses. Now, the next time you experience one or more of the following symptoms, know that you are trapped in a fight-or-flight situation.

  • Increased heart rate or thumping of the heart

  • Increased blood pressure

  • Trembling or shaking

  • Pale or flushed skin

  • Heightened awareness

  • Dilation of the pupils

How The Fight-Or-Flight Response Affects Your Productivity

The moment you wake up on a Monday morning, your to-do list flashes before your eyes.  Anxiety creeps in, and your body and mind start reacting defensively. Your fight-or-flight mode is switched on.

You may not know it but even your boss might be experiencing fight or flight in the course of their workday.  Stressful situations at work can have a major impact on productivity.

Work-induced situations can trigger emotional turmoil. Say, for instance, a pitch for a very important client is fast-approaching. One of your teammates is not doing their share of work and you find that the burden of making up for them falls on you. Such a circumstance may prove to be very stressful and affect the quality of your work.

The constant state of fight or flight may have a detrimental impact on the way you communicate and connect with others. It might hamper your relationships with peers and seniors. Unless you understand the meaning of fight or flight and correct your behavior, you may unknowingly repeat toxic patterns of stress.

A fight-or-flight response generates an immense amount of stress. This may tire you out and sap your energy, which could then be interpreted as a lack of initiative or inability to perform.

The fight-or-flight response can lead to employee burnout or emotional exhaustion. It generates negativity and adversely impacts confidence levels. One finds oneself losing the desire to put out quality work.

It is crucial to handle fight or flight constructively and reduce your stress levels. Here are some ways to cope with fight-or-flight situations:

  • Understand the triggers and your reactions to them. Devise techniques to control your reactions to the triggers.

  • Practice deep breathing and relaxation exercises when you face a fight-or-flight situation

  • Try mindfulness or meditation by imagining a peaceful, happy, positive scene

  • Take a walk or do some light activities which do not require hard thinking

  • Exercise or do yoga for your mental and physical well-being, and also to improve the quality of your sleep

  • Make modifications to your diet by eating healthy foods like green vegetables, fruits and nuts

Harappa’s Executing Solutions course acquaints you with the meaning of fight or flight by using the PACE Toolkit. Understanding this framework will help you make decisions about task allocation. You will also learn about the SANE Response, which can help you stay calm and focussed during crises.  Conquering the negativities arising from the fight-or-flight response will catalyze your advance up the career ladder.


Explore topics such as Ethical Decision MakingData Driven Approach, How to draw Actionable Insights & What is Amygdala Hijack from our Harappa Diaries blog section and develop your skills.

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