FIGHT OR FLIGHT” response to stress and loss

Sometimes excessive stress, trauma and loss cause an individual to go into fight or flight mode where threats to survival or the “enemy” are seen or perceived to be everywhere, in everyone and everything.

Going to this type of thinking or responding may be a coping tool developed several years ago or a result of an inability to cope with life at this time. Feeling there is no escape from what has happened or continues to happen, no matter what others think is going on.

Imagine living life through a lens of fear, overreacting to the slightest comment, where fear is inflated, the thinking process is distorted and danger is perceived to be near, far and wide. Life where rational thoughts and decision making are difficult to come by; where life is full of short term emergencies and an inability to relax.

There are physical signs of fight or flight such as headaches, muscle tension, upset stomach, shallow breathing or taking deep sighs, and a racing heart to name a few. Teeth grinding and eye twitching are also signs of excessive stress.

Emotional signs of anxiety, depression, frustration, sadness, fear, hopelessness and inability to concentrate or stay focused combine with physical symptoms to create the potential for serious health problems.

Burnout is inescapable but there is good news. When an individual finally recognizes they are out of control and take measures to eliminate the threats or understand what is happening; their health, life and outlook can improve. Realizing or understanding there is a problem in yourself is often the hardest to accept.

Perhaps there is a sense or knowing something is not quite as it used to be, a feeling “off”, but not totally able to figure it out alone. There may be others who make comments or act differently around you and you wonder what their problem is.

What can be done to get better? Create a safer environment to live in away from toxic situations or relationships. Be with people who really care about you; this may be difficult when you are not certain about many things. Try to communicate in a friendly manner even if you feel otherwise.

Exercising or going for a walk has a way of reducing stress and sometimes tires you out so you can sleep. Seek counselling or talking with someone may be helpful. There is much more to the stress connected with fight or flight and loss and there is support available. Barbara J. Saunders is a grief counsellor/Thanatologist.


Next week’s article 6 is titled “GETTING RID” of Items after a Los