The old concept of Fight or Flight was helpful in helping to explain the stress response. It’s just not good enough anymore.
Our nervous system is much more complex than that.
Hans Selye gave us his theory on stress and Walter Cannon gave us his concept of fight or flight.
They also talked about the autonomic nervous system with its sympathetic and para-sympathetic branches. The sympathetic speeding things up and the parasympathetic slowing things down. Sounds simple enough. It was relatively easy to explain the concept to people. But, it didn’t explain everything. It also led to some flawed thinking. Many people came to think that sympathetic activation was bad and would lead to negative health outcomes and parasympathetic activation was good and would always lead to positive health outcomes.
This is not a quote from a well know scientist but instead what old people | know used to say “Too much of one thing, is good for nothing”.
Too much sympathetic activation can lead to problems like anxiety and hypertension. Too much sympothetic activation can lead to problems like low energy, depression, and hypotension (low blood pressure). Another update has to do with additional Fs being added to the original Fight or Fight. Our reactions are not binary. Freezing is a third response. This is the deer in the headlights response or playing dead like an opossum. Sometimes not moving can be helpful. At other times it could be the worst thing for survival, Fawn is a new one for me.
This involves reacting in a way to try to please, to avoid further conflict.
Flow is a more positive reaction. It was described by Mihaly Csikszenemihalyi, in his book Flow: The Psychology of”Optimal Experience. This is what people like athletes describe when they are able to perform at their best under challenging situations during which others might fold and erform poorly. People describe time slowing down and focus ‘expanding rather than norrowing.
Maybe we should be working on regulating our responses instead of turning them off: People don’t want to become relaxed zombies. They want to live effectively.