Fight or Flight
My one undergraduate degree is in Biology, specifically majoring in ecological biology and the study of animal behaviour. I had the opportunity to complete field work in Cypress Hills, SK and Bamfield, BC as part of my upper level courses. The work in both of these locations was research on animal behaviour. I learnt a lot about laboratory work, data collection, field work, research in biological sciences, and how ridiculous I look with googles and a snorkel. I met a lot of wonderful people, many of whom are still friends. As much as I was passionate about ecology and marine biology, I knew a career in research was not suited for me. However, this was an excellent stepping stone to my current career in Physiotherapy and was crucial for critical thinking and the importance of evidence-based information.
Now as humans we are extremely similar to the study of animal behaviour with basic instincts of survival. The basic needs can be controversial, but are commonly accepted as: air, water, shelter, and food. Furthermore, education, sanitation and healthcare are often included in this list, but can be isolated to certain parts of the world. We are also social beings with needs of communication, sense of belonging, as well as feeling connection and love. When we detect a threat to our basic needs of survival, a flight or fight response is triggered. The flight or flight response is defined as “a physiological reaction that occurs in response to a perceived harmful event, attack or threat to survival”. Changes in heart rate, blood pressure, digestion and respiratory rate are just some examples of the body adapting to a perceived threat. Hormonal changes are responsible for these physiological reactions. These changes can also be attributed to both appropriate reactions to perceived threats as well as to overreacting to stressors that are not life-threatening, such as work pressure, family difficulties and traffic jams.
With the threat of COVID-19 being so prominent in our community, the only way I can personally try to understand what is happening with people’s behaviours, emotional reactions and controversy is relating it back to a fight or flight response. Here we are facing a threat to our survival - not only with life, but also including finances, normal scheduling, social interactions and much more. Regardless of your belief of COVID-19, changes have occurred to threaten your normal way of living. Behaviour has been perceived as over-reacting, unreasonable, and extreme in the media and community.
Emotional regulation is just another piece of the flight or fight response. Individuals with higher levels of emotional reactivity may be prone to increased levels of anxiety and aggression. Therefore, for many, the intensity of emotion brought on by COVID-19 determines the nature and intense of the behavioural response. Perhaps this could explain some of the more extreme behaviours and poor coping strategies people are utilizing during this time.
Moral of the story is we are all experiencing some changes and threats related to COVID-19. Whether or not someone is feeling the effects of a flight or fight response will be variable from person to person, but developing a better understanding and compassion to those who are struggling with coping with emotions and behaviours is a step in the right direction for society to work together on getting through COVID-19. Perhaps this is the only way we will survive and get through this period of time.
Whether “fighting” or “flighting” - we are still in this together.
-Sara Lawson, Once a Bio Geek, Always a Bio Geek
[Dedicated to my long time friend, old room mate, and research partner - Jessica Vanstone]
Clinic Director and Dance Physiotherapist, Sara Lawson has a special interest in artistic athletes and dance medicine. Sara has worked as a Physiotherapist for many years with a variety of high end athletes, performing artists, and in a variety of fields of Physiotherapy. Join her in exploring behind the scenes of performance and dance Physiotherapy as a clinician and business owner. Behind the Curtain is meant to be an informative, raw, and open platform discussing the challenges and rewards of this industry where the show must always go on.