Sunday, August 14, 2011

Fight or Flight?

I am going to go a little farther afield than I did in my last post, because I think it is good to understand what happens when we disobey God's commands not to worry. I am linking to an article that sums up pretty clearly the physiological responses of our bodies to stress.

Essentially, what it comes down to is this: When we get stressed, our body's immediate is to go into "flight or fight" mode. Our brains start pumping out several different chemicals, including adrenaline, that cause our heart rate to increase, blood flow to increase, and shut down or inhibit certain essential body functions until the "emergency" passes. These essential functions include digestion and reproduction!! When we embrace our worry, and let stress rule our lives, our bodies stop working the way they were meant to. Sometimes (at least in my experience), this actually increases the amount of anxiety you experience.

I'd like to quote a description of what "fight or flight" does to our bodies. I am going to add a disclaimer, too, that I do not agree with the entire philosophy behind the article, but the physiological facts are correct, and are a pretty succinct description of what happens. Just keep that in mind if you click over.

When our fight or flight response is activated, sequences of nerve cell firing occur and chemicals like adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol are released into our bloodstream. These patterns of nerve cell firing and chemical release cause our body to undergo a series of very dramatic changes. Our respiratory rate increases. Blood is shunted away from our digestive tract and directed into our muscles and limbs, which require extra energy and fuel for running and fighting. Our pupils dilate. Our awareness intensifies. Our sight sharpens. Our impulses quicken. Our perception of pain diminishes. Our immune system mobilizes with increased activation. We become prepared—physically and psychologically—for fight or flight. We scan and search our environment, "looking for the enemy."

When our fight or flight system is activated, we tend to perceive everything in our environment as a possible threat to our survival. By its very nature, the fight or flight system bypasses our rational mind—where our more well thought out beliefs exist—and moves us into "attack" mode. This state of alert causes us to perceive almost everything in our world as a possible threat to our survival. As such, we tend to see everyone and everything as a possible enemy. Like airport security during a terrorist threat, we are on the look out for every possible danger. We may overreact to the slightest comment. Our fear is exaggerated. Our thinking is distorted. We see everything through the filter of possible danger. We narrow our focus to those things that can harm us. Fear becomes the lens through which we see the world.

Neil F. Neimark, M.D.

I should emphasize something here. There is no shame in taking medication to deal with anxiety, panic attacks, or depression. If your doctor thinks you have a chemical imbalance that increases your anxiety levels, it is your responsibility to consider (prayerfully) any medical recommendatations your doctor suggests. It is important to understand what God wants for us, and expects of us, and unless you feel convicted to do so differently, it is perfectly reasonable and healthy to seek medical assistance. Medication won't fix everything though, even with medication I still struggle with changing my unhealthy and sinful thought patterns. Medicine isn't a "cure-all," and a chemical imbalance is no excuse for continuing to worry!

So we know that God tells us not to worry, and we know that when we do, our bodies go into "flight or fight" mode. But does God have a spiritual reason for His command not to be anxious? (Somewhat of a retorical question, of course He does!) That, I think, will be the subject of my next post. (Oooh, anticipation!)


  1. The new layout looks nice.

    Feeling a little anxiety right now bc my husband caused to get a warning violation bc he insisted on planting corn. ugh. Mind you, its been there for a few month and they are just now saying something but whatever.

  2. Thanks. :)

    It's so easy for someone outside of your situation to (seemingly) tritely respond "God is in control." You have reminded me plenty of times when I was dreaming out! I'm pretty sure that God, if he used parenting lingo, would call situations like this a "teachable moment!" I know you won't be surprised if I remind you about what God says about the testing of our faith - thanks Pastor Stephen for making us memorize all those verses! (Marriage seems to provide a lot if teachable moments sometimes...) I'm praying for you, and I know you will keep praying for me! Love you, sis!