What are the Phases of The Fight or Flight Response?

What are the Phases of The Fight or Flight Response?

Understanding the Fight or Flight Response

The fight or flight response is an automatic reaction to an event our brain perceives as threatening or stressful. This response activates our body’s natural defenses to enable us to respond appropriately to potential harm.

The 3 Phases of the Fight or Flight Response

There are 3 key phases our bodies go through during the fight or flight response:

  1. Alarm reaction – The initial fight or flight response. The body experiences a burst of heightened physiological arousal and alertness.
  2. Resistance – The body remains physiologically aroused and on high alert. This phase allows us to continue dealing with the threat.
  3. Exhaustion – The body’s resources are depleted after remaining in an emergency state for a prolonged period. Fatigue sets in.

The Physiological Changes

During each phase, several physiological changes occur in the body to prepare us to fight or flee:

  • Increased heart rate, blood pressure and breathing rate
  • Release of stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol
  • Increased sweat production to cool the body
  • Pupil dilation to improve vision
  • Diversion of blood flow toward major muscle groups

The Importance of the Parasympathetic Nervous System

After the threat passes, the parasympathetic nervous system helps return our body to normal function through:

  • Lowered heart rate and blood pressure
  • Decreased stress hormones
  • Increased digestion and immunity

Coping with Fight or Flight

The fight or flight response is healthy and necessary for dealing with real danger. However, this response can be repeatedly triggered by stressful situations where there is no real physical threat present. Understanding how to minimize unnecessary triggers and return to a calm state more swiftly can help prevent longer term negative impacts on health and wellbeing.

Strategies to Manage Fight or Flight

Some helpful strategies include:

  1. Diaphragmatic breathing exercises to manually calm the body
  2. Progressive muscle relaxation to release physical tension
  3. Meditation and visualization to quiet the mind
  4. Positive self-talk to challenge unhelpful thinking patterns
  5. Spending time in nature to promote relaxation


What triggers the fight or flight response?

The fight or flight response can be triggered by various real or perceived threats and stressors, such as confrontation, danger, public speaking, testing, deadlines, arguments, etc.

How long does the fight or flight response last?

If the triggering situation resolves quickly, the fight or flight response may only last minutes. But if the stressor persists or our thinking continues to fuel the stress response, it can last hours, days or even weeks.

Is the fight or flight response bad?

No, this response developed to help us react to and deal with threats for survival. It only becomes problematic if it is excessively or chronically triggered in the absence of real danger, leading to long-term wear and tear on the body.

What hormones are released during fight or flight?

The main hormones released are adrenaline and cortisol. Adrenaline increases heart rate, blood pressure and energy supplies, while cortisol releases glucose and suppresses non-essential functions.

How can I calm my fight or flight response?

Strategies to calm fight or flight include slow breathing, muscle relaxation, meditation, calming self-talk, spending time in nature, and exercise like yoga or tai chi.