Fight or Flight – Stop Running Your Body Down

Since 2020 it seems that most people have been on hyperdrive. It is understandable since the world feels quite unstable and we do not know what to expect from day to day, month to month or next year. Our external landscape is very unpredictable from Covid to the economy to work expectations and more.

As a physical therapist I am seeing people with a lot more muscle tension, pain and movement difficulties not related to an injury. Their bodies just start hurting, get tight and they cannot move right. When I evaluate them I find they are tight throughout their body. This constant state of readiness we are experiencing from the instabilities of our current environment is very taxing on the body.

Let me explain to you how the autonomic nervous system works. There are 2 parts – the sympathetic nervous system which is responsible for our fight, flight, freeze response and the parasympathetic nervous system which is the rest, restore, digest part. Our bodies are designed to be primarily in rest and restore mode and lately it is just the opposite for most people.

There are some specific things that happen physiologically when the sympathetic system, our fight, flight, freeze response, is triggered. Think about if you have a tiger in front of you and you may or may not survive the next 10 minutes. There are certain things that your body deems a priority and other things that are shut down or reduced because it is no longer a priority in that moment.

First thing that happens is that blood flow is shunted to the extremities (the arms and the legs) and away from the central part of the body. This is so that you can fight or run away from a threat such as a tiger. This takes blood flow away from the digestive system… which is no longer a priority. If you do to survive the next 10 minutes it does not matter what is in your stomach now. Your immune system is reduced because the importance of some bacteria / viruses / etc in your body no longer matter because again – if you do not survive the next 10 minutes it is a moot point. Another thing that happens that many may not realize is that blood flow is shunted from the frontal lobe of the brain to the reflex part of the brain. The frontal lobe is responsible for problem solving and requires you to take your time to really think things through. Well, you do not have time for that with a tiger in your face. Reactions have to be fast and reflexive.

These responses are all very important and needed in an emergency situation. The problem is that this constant instability in the current state of the world is unsettling for most people and they are finding themselves in a constant fight or flight. Many people do not even know how to get back into true rest and restore mode. This causes a range of problems including difficulty sleeping / light sleeping, digestive issues, easily angered and frustrated and pain throughout the body, especially in problem areas, from the muscles being in a constant state of tension. The nervous system has been so heightened for so long that it thinks fight or flight is the default even if it is destructive to the body in the long run.

So what can you do right now to hack this system? What can you do to stimulate the rest and restore part of your nervous system? I have a quick hack you can use anytime because it involves something you do every second of every day – Breathing. When you inhale it automatically stimulates the sympathetic nervous system and when you exhale it stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system. Usually when we breath we keep this fairly balanced but when under stress breathing becomes quite shallow and we are no longer using breath to our advantage.

Consider how you feel after a long day and you give out a big sigh… where the exhale is longer than the inhale. It relaxes your body and mind and allows you to settle down. You can use this consciously to help you and inhale for a count of 3 and exhale for a count of 5. Each exhale will help your body to trigger back into rest and restore mode.

Sometimes breathing is not enough because the stress levels are just too high. In addition, mask wearing can impair the full breathing process and automatically trigger the fight or flight response when worn for longer durations. In cases like these, a good supplement may be ideal. Personally, I work with Natures Sunshine products because they are stringent with their quality control. They have their employees go out and survey the farms where the plants are grown and then they do quality control throughout the manufacturing process. They even check the capsules at the end to ensure they are homogenous and consistent. If you are curious about the measures taken for quality control check out the video at the top of this page

That being said they have ALOT of supplements to combat stress. I do have my personal favorites. Click this link to see the list of my personal favorites. Let me explain some of the benefits briefly of these supplements that I recommend. The two I use the most frequently are Nerve 8 and Anxiousless. I love the Nerve 8 because I use it (and so does my boyfriend) to get quality sleep. It does not make us feel drowsy in the morning like melatonin and if we awaken in the middle of the night, even as late as 4:30, we can take another capsule or two of the Nerve 8 and fall back asleep in 30 minutes and still wake up at 7 not feeling drowsy or sluggish. Anxiousless does just what the name says; it helps reduce anxiety. Anxiety is common with too much sympathetic stimulation and this supplement does great to take the edge off and calm the mind. Ashwaganda is an adaptogenic herb, which means that it adapts to what your body needs. It helps greatly with promoting a proper stress response and also helps with physical stamina. This is beneficial because fatigue is common with excessive fight or flight responses. Nutricalm is rich in B vitamins which supports the nervous system along with multiple herbs and additional vitamins designed to calm the body and nervous system. The B vitamins also promote some energy production and works in tandem with the Ashwaganda.

Hopefully this gives you some resources to help you with calming yourself down and finding a bit more grounding and centeredness in your body and mind. If you want some extra help feel free to reach out to me at and we can set up a consult. The first 15 minute consult is complimentary.

In Abundant Health,


About Lisa Marie Keller

Lisa Marie Keller wants to live in a world where it is commonplace to dance to the music of life. As a pain management specialist, she's been working as a Physical Therapist resolving the pain of her patients for a variety of conditions including but not limited to chronic back pain, shoulder pain, neck pain, knee pain foot pain and even headaches for over thirteen years. Following seven years of traditional schooling and more years than she would like to remember at the School of Hard Knocks resolving her own pain and body dysfunctions she has become the Queen of Conquering Pain. When she’s not pondering on how to solve the next health dilemma, you can find her dancing around in her living room to music that is played much too loud, making snobby comments about amazing wine and fantasizing about where she is going to travel to next. Her first book — Free My Back — hit the Amazon Marketplace in August 2014. You can get a free e-book version of Free My Back by registering at
This entry was posted in Fight or Flight Response, Immune Health, Nutrition, Pain and Stress Relief, stress management and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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