How Long Does the Fight or Flight Reaction Last?
The term “flooding” describes the release of hormones that “flood” or prepare your body for action. These chemicals must pass through your body, be absorbed into the tissues and released into the urine before your body returns to normal.
The fight or flight process takes 20 minutes. You will need a 20 minute respite to completely calm down physiologically! If the stressful situation remains, your heart rate will remain elevated, and your body will pump out adrenaline and your thinking will be clouded. You will be physiologically reactive even if you “know” a different response is called for. Most people think they are calm, long before they actually are physiologically calm.
This cranial takeover occurs because your prefrontal cortex is simply out-matched by the competition from your amygdala. This race is not even close because emotion-laden pathways in the brain are faster the logical signals. So think of driving. Your amygdala’s emotional impulses zoom down your neurological express routes. However, the same information is also being processed logically, but your rational thoughts are transported via the local roads, stopping at other regions of your brain along the way. But because the emotional pathway in your brain transmits signals twice as fast as the more roundabout route involving your logic, your judgment simply can’t intervene in time. It takes time to think, plan, analyze, and act.
Our hunter-gatherer ancestors did not have the luxury of time. If they were confronted with a threat, they had to act immediately or they would die. They could not take a moment to weigh the pros and cons, analyze and act, “Well there is a bear in front of me. Do I look for honey? Shall I catch a salmon? Shape some wood into a spear? Grab a rock? Run away?” No, it was fight (attack) or flight (run away), It was not logical problem solving that helped them in that moment. It was their emotional reactions, which allowed them to survive.
Karmin, A. (2016). How Long Does the Fight or Flight Reaction Last?. Psych Central. Retrieved on February 24, 2018, from https://blogs.psychcentral.com/anger/2016/06/how-long-does-the-fight-or-flight-reaction-last/