sixtyandme logo
We are community supported and may earn a commission when you buy through links on our site. Learn more

When Things Get Tough – Fight or Flight?

By Penelope Jane Whiteley June 16, 2021 Mindset

If you don’t remember The Jewel of the Nile, you’re too young to be reading this article. If you do remember The Jewel of the Nile, you’ll remember “When the Going Gets Tough.” Great song and Billy Ocean sounds the same today as he did then.

The Two Options

Before I’m overtaken by nostalgia for the 80s, I’m going to address the fight or flight question and start by saying I feel, as we have reached a certain level of maturity, flight is seldom an option.

Many of us can say “been there, done that” and move on quite easily because finally, whatever happens, is out choice.

We grew up with a variety of challenges, some of them not faced by children today, and we learned very early the two options available.

The paralysing trepidation of walking into a new school. The fear of going to the local shop for the first time… money wrapped in the paper shopping list. The horror of having to ask for something from the bus conductor. The list is endless if we stop and think about it…

You will have your own memories of the most fearsome events. As a child, I was painfully shy. I still am, but I’ve learned to hide it with a magnificent show of front. Do you do the same or are you completely relaxed in your skin?

Why Fight or Flight?

The fight or flight reaction is controlled by the sympathetic nervous system. If you think of it as an accelerator or gas pedal in a car, you can understand how quick and easy it is to trigger the flight reaction.

When you hit that pedal, hormones (mainly adrenaline and noradrenaline) flood the body, and a tremendous burst of energy is created. Perfect for flight …

But how many situations really warrant this reaction?

Flight is our self-protection system against danger or anything that may harm us. It keeps us alive. Fortunately, we no longer have to worry about Sabre Toothed Tiger attack, but unfortunately, our body can trigger the flight reaction if we are feeling stress.

The fight-flight-freeze (FFF) response causes your heart rate to increase which causes an increase in oxygen flow to your major muscles. Your pain perception drops, your hearing sharpens, and these changes help rapid and appropriate action.

What’s Up with FFF, Really?

So what causes enough stress to trigger that instant reaction we really don’t need? What is so dangerous that we hit the trigger for the FFF response? Have we learned which battles to take-on and which to let go?

These all seem to be how-long-is-a-piece-of-string type questions. Each of us is unique, and we all respond differently to different stimuli. For example …

  • Riding with someone who basically doesn’t know how to drive – your heart is in your mouth, your breathing is rapid and you sweat. You would love to throw yourself out of the car and get away from the danger.
    • Huge, hairy, black spiders climbing your wall.
    • People on trains or buses who refuse to wear masks but insist on breathing all over you.
    • Falling out of the rowing boat into deep dark water and being unable to swim.
    • Deep dark water.

These are just some of mine and I would love to know what yours are… it’s good to compare horrors because it gives us the ability to laugh at them!

When it comes to taking on phone companies or utility companies or even the guy supposed to fix the cupboard door in the kitchen, we seldom feel fear and we seldom trigger the FFF reaction. Mostly, we feel frustration and yes, this is definitely part of aging.

We lose our fear of incidentals because we have finally come to realise the sad (or happy, depending on how you look at it) facts of life:

  • Nobody is actually looking at us.
  • Most people aren’t listening to us.
  • Opinions of others are a waste of time.
  • Nobody really cares if we fall flat on our face.

Why? They’re more interested and concerned about themselves. I am, of course, talking about the general population; not your nearest and dearest.

So my opinion on fight or flight is knowing when to fight or when to leave well alone. This is a wisdom that calms with age.

In what situations is your first instinct to flight? And when do you feel most propelled to fight? Have you grown wise with age, and do you think it’s better to disregard the factors we cannot control?

Notify of

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

The Author

Penelope Jane Whiteley is the self-appointed Queen of Aging Disgracefully. A writer, international speaker, clothes designer, stylist and traveller, she helps other women to live their lives on their own terms. Her courses include “Lose 10 pounds in 10 minutes,” “The Reboot,” “Just Write the Damn Book.” Find her on, Twitter, and Facebook.

You Might Also Like