Fight or Flight

What does "fight or flight" mean?

The term "fight or flight" describes a mechanism in the body that enables humans and animals to mobilize a lot of energy rapidly in order to cope with threats to survival.

To see it in action, click the picture below. Warning! Not for the faint of heart.


Fight or Flight Movie


How does it work?

A threat is perceived

The autonomic nervous system automatically puts body on alert.

The adrenal cortex automatically releases stress hormones.

The heart automatically beats harder and more rapidly.

Breathing automatically becomes more rapid.

Thyroid gland automatically stimulates the metabolism.

Larger muscles automatically receive more oxygenated blood.

The important thing to take away is that the fight or flight response is an automatic response.

False alarms!

Even though the fight or flight response is automatic, it isn't always accurate. In fact most of the time when the fight or flight response is triggered it is a false alarm - there is no threat to survival. The part of the brain the initiates the automatic part of the fight or flight response, the amygdala, can't distinguish between a real threat and a perceived threat.

Chill, no, freeze!

Sometimes the perceived threat is so intense it triggers a "freeze" response. This could be interpreted as the brain being overwhelmed by the threat, or it could also be an adaptive / positive response to a threat. It probably evolved in humans and animals as a way of "keeping still" so a predator's attention would not be triggered by movement.

Either way, for modern humans the freeze response means that the muscles remain tensed and poised for action....action that is never really initiated. That's why we often get "knots" in our backs, shoulders, neck, and arms. We have not discharged the tension.



image of a small boat

We've created a game designed to test your newly-acquired knowledge by placing you inside a human body during the fight or flight response. STAY ALIVE! (It will be worth it if you make it to the end.)

FAQs - Frequently Asked Questions

1) How will knowing the "fight or flight" response help me with my stress?

2) I can't get through the game. What's wrong?

3) There are factual errors in the game. What should I do?

How will knowing the "fight or flight" response help me with my stress?

For some people, knowing that the "butterflies" in their stomach or the muscle tension in their neck is part of the body's normal response to stress can help them feel empowered to make changes. Understanding the physiological mechanism of the fight or flight response can provide people a sense that the "machinery" of the body can be manipulated in a healthy, adaptive way to respond to stress.

I can't get through the game. What's wrong?

The two types of activities in the game are making choices about which organs would be the "safest" for your submarine to journey to and through, ultimately leading your way out of the body, and the second type of activity is the arcade-style sections in which you are supposed to survive for 30 seconds. For the journey through the organs, re-read the educational text about the fight or flight response. All of the clues are there to help you make the right decisions. For the arcade section, keep trying - you'll master it!

There are factual errors in the game. What should I do?

We really want to hear your feedback and opinion about the site, so please do email us below and let us know what you think - and what you think is wrong. We want to make sure everything is as clear and accurate as possible. Regarding the game, there are some liberties taken with some of the less critical information in order the make the narrative of the game work. As far as we know, the core aspects of the game are medically correct.

Remember to Think Small

think smallWhat's one small thing you can do to reduce your stress? Try it as an experiment and see what happens. You can always go back to your old way of doing things.




This site is designed to be a work in progress. We are constantly refining and improving it based on your feedback and suggestions. Your message is anonymous, so please feel free to let us know what you think!