Fear and the Flight or Fight Reflex – Part 2 of 6

By Jim Harrison (Originally Published By MA Success Magazine)

What is “flight adrenaline” and what does it do to us?

Flight adrenaline (norepinephrine) is a hormone that’s secreted by the adrenal gland when a human being – or, virtually any animal, but specifically, mammals – anticipates danger. Flight adrenaline greatly increases our awareness and alertness.

In addition to making us considerably more alert and sensitive to our immediate surroundings, it also increases our peripheral awareness. To put it simply, it opens up our senses to detect danger. It allows – or actually forces us to tune in to danger and/or the possibility of danger.

Flight adrenaline fine-tunes our receptive and responsive abilities. It especially increases our desire and our ability to avoid danger, because there is normally less risk in avoiding danger than in confronting it.

There’s an old Zen parable that best illustrates the distinction between these two reflexes:

A Zen master out for a walk with one of his students pointed out a fox chasing a rabbit.

“According to an ancient fable,” the master said, “the rabbit will get away from the fox.”

“Not so,” replied the student. “The fox is faster.”

“But the rabbit will elude him,” insisted the master.

“Why are you so certain?” asked the student.

“Because” answered the master, “the fox is running for his dinner and the rabbit is running for his life.”

What responses does flight adrenaline cause in humans?

Flight adrenaline (norepinephrine) signals us to be ready to run. It also enables us to run earlier and much faster than normal. That’s because, again, we are much better off to avoid danger than to confront it. In other words, it’s better to flee than to fight. Whether you believe it or not, we can actually run much faster when afraid.

What is “fight adrenaline” and how does it affect us?

Fight adrenalin (epinephrine) is an adjacent hormone also secreted by the medulla section of the adrenal gland. Epinephrine, however, works in many ways almost entirely opposite of flight adrenalin. It decreases our peripheral senses and actually focuses, or tunnels, our perceptions and responses.

Fight adrenalin not only triggers our emergency senses, but also our emergency reflexes, to aid us whenever we cannot, do not, or will not avoid danger. It makes us quicker and stronger, assets that we sorely need to confront and meet danger.

In addition, fight adrenalin greatly increases our pain threshold anywhere from mild to superhuman, just as it can our strength. It also increases our dysfunctional override capacity- the ability to resist and even aggress after incurring physical damage. It can allow us to function despite a dislocated joint, broken bones, etc.; or after the breath has been knocked out of us, or even when we have been knocked almost unconscious!

How can you best describe the differences between flight and fight adrenalin?

Here’s the best analogy. Flight adrenalin is what rabbits have 99.99% of the time. Fight adrenalin is what grizzly bears are imbued with 99.99% of the time.

Only the rarest of rabbits, in the rarest of instances, will fight. Even in the most extreme cases – when cornered and being eaten alive – rabbits will simply acquiesce into shock,or continue their attempt to escape.

The grizzly very rarely thinks of avoiding danger, much less running from it. Grizzlies have been ftlmed attacking automobiles! They normally only run to catch, and/or attack, a meal, and very rarely to escape – and then only from conditioned reflexes such as to run from men with dogs and rifles. But quite often, not even then.

Each human being also has a certain proportional amount of rabbit and grizzly reflexes, obviously in vastly different degrees per individual. The proportion depends completely upon a person’s inherited genetic DNA dispersal.