The Physical Effects of Primal Fight-or-Flight Triggers
To control our consciousness, we must first understand our consciousness. So, to complete our understanding of threat triggers, we’ll look at the overall physical effects of fight-or-flight, and then we’ll talk about options for eliminating them.
Like most animals, the amygdala is a core mechanism in the human threat response system. While the amygdala does many things, for today’s purpose, I will focus on the amygdala’s responsibility for triggering the fight-or-flight response.
First and foremost, we must remember that our amygdala’s decisions do not occur at the level of thought. They occur before thought. They are not conscious or even subconscious. Think of them as bundles of unconscious rules recorded to keep us safe. When your amygdala receives sensory data that activates the stored information, it assumes a tiger is chasing you.
Regardless of the threat, your brain believes you are about to die. So, it releases excess norepinephrine (noradrenaline) and epinephrine (adrenaline) from the synaptic vesicles. These chemicals increase our heart rates, raise blood pressure by constricting the blood vessels, and increase sugar release to stimulate muscle strength. The brain does all of this so we can fight harder and run faster.
This chemical reaction is natural. However, it is only necessary if an actual tiger is chasing us. Our systems function, assuming stress states will be temporary. Therefore, if the brain perceives this trigger as a genuine threat, having daily triggers will foster a system that is more observant of danger. If someone struck you every time you said a specific word, your sensitivity to being struck would heighten, not just to that word, but to all words. Now, expand that to potentially losing a job, relationship, home, or societal position.
While the fight-or-flight chemicals aim to create alert, focused attention and the heightened sensory awareness necessary to survive a perceived attack, they also reduce confidence. Consequently, feelings of security and even sanity can disappear, along with the ability to process any new information. Being under threat is equal to feeling powerless or ‘less than’ a situation or the people in it. We can experience this as a lack of control or feeling subject to conditions like the world is happening ‘to us.’ In the case of ongoing triggers, the reaction will be more noticeable, like anxiety, depression, highly reactive behavior, or other forms of mental illness.
The way we live has created environments where most people exist in the triggered state more than the rest-and-digest state, even though the perceived threats present no real risks of death. As a result, our amygdalas are much larger than they need to be, making them more sensitive to triggers. It is an ever-worsening cycle of suffering, and through it all, we may not even understand why we are reacting. But we feel it. We feel the pain in every bone, breath, and aspect of our lives.
Ultimately, the underlying issue with living in a chronically stressed state comes down to energy. The brain’s primary function is survival, and our bodies naturally produce ample energy for the brain to manage all its functions. However, we are limited in how much energy we can generate. Since adrenaline/noradrenaline rushes consume excess energy, the brain will send histamines to turn off noncritical systems that also consume energy.
To date, pharmacology has discovered four primary histamine receptors responsible for managing the systems affected while in a fight-or-flight trigger. The first recognized system is the H-1 transmitter, stored in the smooth muscle and endothelial cells. The H-1 transmitter manages the allergic response system and either activates or deactivates it, depending on the threat. Of course, allergies are not a priority when our brain believes it is being chased by a tiger. So, individuals who suffer ongoing stress tend to have more allergies.
The second histamine transmitter is H-2. These histamines are stored in the gastric parietal cells and are directly responsible for controlling acid secretion in the digestive system. Of course, this is the most obvious histamine affected by the fight-or-flight/ rest-and-digest balance. Since our digestive system consumes massive amounts of energy and is unnecessary while managing threats, it does not function during fight-or-flight triggers. Therefore, digestive issues have long been recognized by the medical community as a result of stress.
The third of the currently recognized histamines is H-3. These histamines are stored in the central nervous system and manage our neurotransmitters. Think of the central nervous system as the body’s way of processing external and internal information. It makes sense that information regarding external factors that are affecting our bodies would not be a priority during a fight-or-flight trigger.
If a tiger is chasing you, you must be able to be cut or bruised or even break bones if it gets you back to safety. Stories of heroic physical acts like people lifting cars to save children or running miles to find help are examples of what we can do when survival demands it. The brain dismisses the damage while it is happening but doesn’t undo it.
If you’ve ever had a car accident, you know. It is usually around twenty-four to forty-eight hours after the accident that you begin to feel the full effects of the physical trauma. Reactivating rest-and-digest systems can take time after the activation of fight-or-flight chemicals. Still, when the systems that send pain information are restored, we feel every bit of the damage.
The final histamine—only discovered at the turn of this century—is the H-4 histamine. This histamine is stored in the mast, eosinophil, T, and dendritic cells and is directly responsible for the immune system. The deactivation of our immune system is why we commonly find ourselves getting ill after periods of prolonged anxiety or why certain viral infections like the herpes virus become more active during times of stress. Stress is a physical result of fight-or-flight triggers, so it makes sense that viruses resurface when the systems that fight them are dormant. Turn the system back on, and the virus recedes again, or better put, our body can contain it and, at times, even eliminate it.
When functioning at its peak, the human body has robust allergic, digestive, nervous, and immune systems. However, when we repeatedly activate and deactivate these systems, they weaken. As a result, our suffering might be as mild as the discomfort we assume is inherent to life. On the other hand, we may live in anguish or any level of limitation in between. Regardless of the level of suffering, the damage to our minds and bodies is real. But we must remember it is not necessary. We can return the body to a healthier homeostasis and sometimes even reverse the damage.
The issue of histamine imbalances is not breaking news. This is what the medical industry treats as the root of physical, mental, and emotional pain, and in many cases, it does so successfully. If you observe the side effects of most pharmaceuticals, you’ll find they fall into four major categories. These categories are directly representative of the four different histamine receptors. As a result, common side effects occur with varying conditions because of the histamines they treat. For example, a doctor might prescribe the same medication for pain as they would for depression. The pharmacology industry does this because the same histamine imbalance can result in multiple symptoms. Some will be more prevalent in one person than another.
At the end of the day, having an overactive amygdala is the root of the histamine imbalances that culminate in a long list of known illnesses. Symptoms and conditions recognized by the pharmaceutical industry to be affected by histamine imbalance include:
Weight Disorders Food Disorders GI Disorders Nutrient Deficiencies
Leaky Gut Ulcers Anaphylaxis Allergic Response
Autoimmune Disease Motion Sickness Skin Disorders Bacterial Infestations
Body Pain / Fibromyalgia Cancer Asthma Respiratory Disorders
Neurological Diseases Seizure Disorders Autism Cognitive Function Disorders
Hormone Imbalances Sleep-Wake Disorders Mood Disorders Blood Vessel Dilation and many more.
When all is said and done, the results can be devastating if we suffer prolonged stress driven by hypothetical threats. Our brains may ultimately kill us, trying not to die.