While the Fight or Flight reaction can potentially save our lives the down side is that it can be set off by situations that do not actually threaten our survival. Being the complex creatures we are, we sometimes equate threats to our psychological well being as actual threats to our physical survival.  This may come from a negative or critical thought generated in our own minds or a similar comment directed at us by someone else.  Sometimes we can just imagine or assume that a negative or critical comment has been made about us.  We may assume a negative or critical comment will be made if we do not comply with some one else’s demands.  You will probably be familiar with what in particular triggers a perception of threat in you. When our boss asks us to complete a project we believe we cannot do our self esteem may be threatened and our brain interpreting this as a threat to our survival triggers the fight or flight response and we experience our heart beating rapidly and go into a cold sweat.

What we perceive as threatening can be based on past painful or uncomfortable experiences that we wish to avoid reoccurring.  It can be the fear of failing or looking foolish; feeling judged; believing one will be seen as weak or not good enough; not living up to someone else's expectations.  Exam nerves, being interviewed for a job, approaching someone to whom we are attracted can all provoke this reaction. We either take the challenge or we walk away. Being in a room of strangers where one is expected to socialize can be stressful for some because they have not developed the social skills required to deal with such a situation.  This may be accompanied by memories of negative experiences associated with social situations.  This may result in flight, actually leaving the situation or withdrawing and not interacting with others, or fight, becoming aggressive or pushy and interacting in an insensitive way. 

If we realize what is happening then we can recover from the situation and regain our equilibrium. We do not stay stuck in the negative emotion. If we tend to dwell on such things perhaps pulling up all the past and recent occurrences of similar events, which maintain the negative emotions, then our stress levels do not go down.  Similarly if we are continually experiencing situations that stress us out we do not have a chance to recover our normal equilibrium. Eventually this leads to a state of chronic stress.

Phone: (780)-970-3146


Providing therapy to adults for relationship problems, depression, anxiety, low self-esteem,anger, social anxiety, and trauma.

About Jack Lewis

I am a registered psychologist in the province of Alberta and have been practicing as a qualified psychologist for over 30 years.