Is Trauma Tricking Your Body into Constant Fight-or-Flight Mode?

Anyone who’s been through a traumatic event knows that the trauma doesn’t end there. A person can have flashbacks for weeks, months or even years after the traumatic event occurred. They might suffer from nightmares and find themselves to be constantly “on edge,” waiting for the next danger to strike. Over time, this behavior might come so frequent that they start to normalize it. They might forget what it’s like to not live in a state of constant anxiety. In fact, some people might even start to believe that being “jittery” or “anxious” is just part of their personality.

What many people don’t realize is that trauma can trick their body into staying in a permanent state of fight-or-flight mode. When this happens, they might feel anxious all the time, feel panicky when things don’t go as planned, jump at sudden noises, and find themselves constantly looking for an escape in every situation. This is a normal response to genuinely dangerous situations, but when it creeps into your everyday life, it stops becoming normal and starts preventing you from enjoying your life. You start thinking that danger is everywhere and there’s no place to hide. Your trauma has tricked your body into constantly searching for the nearest exit.

How Trauma Tricks Your Body into Fight-or-Flight Mode

When faced with a threatening situation, your body immediately jumps into fight-or-flight mode. You feel a rush of adrenaline and your heart starts pounding. Fear shoots through your entire body. Your body is preparing you to either fight off the intruder (the “fight”) or run from the situation (the “flight.”) You might find yourself acting on instinct without thinking about what you’re doing. Your brain shuts down everything else so you can focus on one thing: fighting off a threat, or getting out of there as soon as possible.

Once you’re out of danger, the fight-or-flight mode starts to shut down. You lose the fear and adrenaline and begin to assess what just happened. You might suddenly feel exhausted or have the urgent need to use the restroom. You might still have occasional flashes of fear, but overall, your brain returns to its normal functioning. It’s part of the survival instinct that’s guided humans for thousands of years. It helped our ancestors avoid being eaten by wild animals, and now it’s supposed to help us with modern dangers, like escaping a fire or fighting off a burglar.

What Happens When the Fight-or-Flight Mode Doesn’t Go Away

Ideally, you should be able to leave the fight-or-flight mode behind when the danger is over and go back to your regular life. But for some people, the traumatic event lingers in their minds. They have vivid flashbacks from the event months or years after it took place. Their body is locked in constant fight-or-flight mode that tells them that leaving the house is dangerous and intruders are lurking around every corner. No matter how hard they try, they can’t seem to shake the feeling of constant anxiety, which may lead to them turning to drugs or alcohol to cope.

Living in a constant state of fight-or-flight mode can ruin a person’s life. They can be afraid to leave the house because their brain tells them that accidents happen when they leave the safety of the home. They might cancel social visits and take time off work because going out in public has become terrifying. Their brain is trying to protect them by making them afraid of what it perceives as a dangerous situation. But in fact, their brain is full of irrational thoughts that are the result of fight-or-flight mode spinning way out of control.

What are the Signs Your Body is in Constant Fight-or-Flight Mode?

Your body might be in constant fight-or-flight mode if you experience any of the following for more than two weeks:

  • Often feeling anxious for no apparent reason
  • Avoiding going out in public
  • Suffering from constant “What if?” thoughts, like “What if there’s a terrorist on the train?”
  • Making sure you have an escape plan every time you go out in public
  • Avoiding anything that’s even slightly associated with the trauma
  • Suffering from nightmares or flashbacks
  • Experiencing physical symptoms like sweating, nausea, trembling hands, etc.
  • Having intrusive thoughts with disturbing content

If you’re living in a constant state of anxiety and find yourself turning to drugs or alcohol, there is another option. Contact us today at 833-762-3739 and we’ll help you get back on your feet and start enjoying life again without the use of substances.