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The Physical, Behavioral, And Emotional Signs You're Living in Fight Or Flight Mode

Posted by Liz Tenuto on

Physical Signs You're Living in Fight Or Flight Mode

Feeling bloated all the time.

When your body is in fight or flight mode, it diverts blood flow away from the digestive system, leading to slower digestion, which can cause bloating. Additionally, the stress hormones released during fight or flight mode can affect the muscles in your gastrointestinal tract, leading to increased gas and discomfort. 

Bruising easily.

When your body is in a heightened state of stress, you releases stress hormones that can weaken blood vessels and make them more prone to breaking. This can lead to easy bruising even from minor bumps or injuries. 

Craving sugar.

The body's stress hormone (cortisol) affects blood sugar levels, so when you're in fight or flight mode, the increase of cortisol in your body will actively make you crave sugar for a quick source of energy. However, relying on sugary foods can then lead to energy crashes and further exacerbate the stress response. So it's important to be mindful of these cravings and recognize when they're being triggered by a stress response.

Getting sick a lot.

Getting sick often is a sign that your body's been in fight or flight mode for too long. Prolonged periods of stress, and being in a constant state of high alert, can weaken the immune system and make you more susceptible to illnesses. The stress hormones released during fight or flight mode can suppress immune function, making it harder for your body to fight off infections. 

Breaking out.

As your body reacts to stress and releases the stress hormones of cortisol, it leads to an increase in oil production — as well as general inflammation in the skin. This results in breakouts or it can exacerbate existing skin conditions. 

Weak muscles.

During your body's stress response, blood flow is directed towards vital organs, so muscles may not receive adequate oxygen and nutrients. This leads to weak muscles.

Hair falling out.

The body diverts resources away from non-essential functions during times of high stress — this includes the function of hair growth, leading to increased hair shedding or thinning. Stress hormones released during fight or flight mode can also disrupt the hair growth cycle, causing hair follicles to enter a resting phase prematurely.

Puffy face.

When your body is constantly in a heightened stress response, it can lead to inflammation and fluid retention. This can cause your face to appear swollen or puffy, particularly around the eyes and cheeks.

Constant fatigue.

Constant fatigue is a huge indicator of living in high levels of stress in your body. When the body is in fight or flight mode, your sleep patterns are disrupted, resulting in poor and insufficient sleep. Additionally, the release of cortisol leads to the overall feeling of fatigue and exhaustion in general.

Behavioral Signs You're Living in Fight Or Flight Mode

Waking up in the middle of the night with racing thoughts.

Racing thoughts are a sign that you're living in a constant state of fight or flight mode. When your body perceives a threat or experiences chronic stress, the sympathetic nervous system becomes overactive, leading to racing thoughts as a response to heightened alertness and anxiety. This persistent activation of the fight or flight response can disrupt your ability to relax, focus, and make clear decisions, indicating that you're consistently operating in a state of hyperarousal and stress. And these racing thoughts unfortunately don't shut off when you're sleeping. So waking up with racing thoughts around 3am every night is a clear indication that the nervous system is overwhelmed and struggling to maintain balance and regulate emotions effectively.

Picking small fights with your partner.

The sympathetic nervous system remains on high alert when your body is constantly perceiving threats or experiencing chronic stress. This leads to increased irritability and hypersensitivity. And the heightened state of arousal can make you more prone to reacting strongly and aggressively, as your body is primed for immediate action. So when your partner does something that would normally just slightly annoy you or frustrate you, your reaction will probably a bit more heightened when you're stressed.

Rage cleaning.

Rage cleaning is an unusual yet completely common sign that you're living in a state of fight or flight mode. When your body is overwhelmed by stress, the fight response can manifest in intense bursts of energy and the need for control. Engaging in rage cleaning, characterized by aggressive and excessive cleaning behaviors, can serve as a way to channel that excess energy and regain a sense of control. This behavior indicates that you may be operating in a constant state of hyperarousal, seeking ways to alleviate stress and establish a sense of order amidst chaos.

Making impulsive decisions.

As the body experiences chronic stress, the decision-making process can be affected. The heightened state of arousal and anxiety can lead to impulsive decision-making as a way to quickly resolve perceived threats or gain a sense of control. This can result in rash and potentially regrettable choices, indicating that your nervous system may be overwhelmed and struggling to make sound and rational decisions. 

Constantly needed to have a trip planned.

When the body is under chronic stress or feeling overwhelmed, the desire to escape or seek immediate relief becomes heightened. In such cases, the need to constantly plan trips may serve as a coping mechanism to provide a sense of control, anticipation, and temporary respite from stressors. This behavior can indicate that your nervous system is constantly seeking relief from the fight or flight response.

Keeping yourself consistently overstimulated or constantly busy.

When the body is under chronic stress, the sympathetic nervous system remains constantly activated, leading to a heightened sense of alertness and the need to stay busy as a way to distract from or avoid dealing with stressors. This constant state of busyness and overstimulation can be a subconscious attempt to keep the fight or flight response engaged, creating an illusion of control or productivity.  

Emotional Signs Your Nervous System Is Shutdown

Having intrusive thoughts.

When the body is under chronic stress or experiencing anxiety, the mind can become overwhelmed with intrusive thoughts that are persistent, distressing, and difficult to control. These intrusive thoughts often center around perceived threats, worst-case scenarios, or negative self-assessments. They are a manifestation of the heightened vigilance and hyperarousal associated with the fight or flight response. 

Mood swings.

When the body is under chronic stress or experiencing high levels of anxiety, it can disrupt the normal regulation of emotions. The constant activation of the sympathetic nervous system can lead to rapid and unpredictable shifts in mood, ranging from irritability and anger to sadness or heightened sensitivity. These mood swings indicate that your nervous system is struggling to maintain emotional balance and can be a result of the overstimulation and hyperarousal associated with the fight or flight response.

Brain fog.

In the fight or flight state, the brain is hyper-focused on survival and basic functions, leading to a decrease in cognitive abilities. The lack of clarity, difficulty concentrating, and forgetfulness associated with brain fog can all be attributed to the elevated stress hormones and reduced blood flow to the brain that occur in fight or flight mode.

Memory issues.

Memory issues can be a clear indicator of living in fight or flight mode. When the body is constantly in a state of heightened stress and survival mode, the brain prioritizes immediate tasks and functions over long-term memory processes. The release of cortisol can interfere with the consolidation of memories and impair the retrieval of information from the hippocampus, leading to difficulty in remembering and recalling details. As a result, individuals may experience forgetfulness, difficulty concentrating, and a general fuzziness in their cognitive abilities, all of which can be attributed to being caught in fight or flight mode.

Decreased empathy.

When the body and mind are constantly focused on survival and self-preservation — as they are in fight or flight mode — the ability to empathize with others may take a backseat. And this can be unbelievably difficult for people to understand and cope with. The increased stress response and elevated levels of stress hormones can lead to heightened self-centeredness and a diminished capacity to connect emotionally with others. This can manifest as a decreased ability to understand or relate to the feelings and experiences of those around them.

If you're experiencing more than 6 of these symptoms, your nervous system might be stuck in fight or flight mode after dealing with extreme stress and trauma.