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What Happens When We Trigger?

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 fight-or-flight triggers, we’ll look at the overall effect fight-or-flight mechanisms have on our body and then, we’ll talk about options for eliminating them.

Like most animals, the fight-or-flight mechanisms in humans work through the amygdala. The responsibilities of the amygdala are vast and I won’t address everything that is known about this primal mechanism here. For our purposes, I want to stress the amygdala’s responsibility for triggering the fight-or-flight response itself.

The decisions of our amygdala are not conscious or even subconscious. They are unconscious rules stored in the brain as sensory stimuli. The black and white decision making of the immature mind is not happening at a level of thought. Every trigger is sensory. It is an unconscious act of survival instincts stored as a perception of safety.

When your brain is triggered into a fight-or-flight response, it perceives itself as equivalent to the weak gazelle of a herd, being chased by a tiger. Regardless of the threat response triggering it, your brain believes you are about to die. As a result, confidence disappears, along with the ability to process complex thoughts. Feelings of security and even sanity seem far from where we are. We don’t know we’ve lost touch. In fact, we often don’t know why we react, but we feel it, in every bone, in every breath, in every aspect of life, we feel the suffering.

Over time, through the DNA structure we adopted from our ancestors and the regular triggering of the threat response, the amygdala-in a vast majority of us-is larger than it needs to be. In an enlarged state, it is more sensitive to threats, causing it to trigger easily in an ever-worsening cycle of reaction.

Of course, if the brain perceives this trigger as a true threat – like a tiger chasing us – having daily triggers is going to create a system that is sensitive, or what you might consider more observant to trigger. If someone struck you every time you said a certain word, your sensitivity to that word will heighten. This creates conditions where people might live in a triggered state more than a rest-and-digest state, even though there are no real imminent threats of death.

When the amygdala perceives a threat, both norepinephrine and epinephrine are released in excess of their normal, healthy levels. These chemicals create alert, focused attention and the heightened sensory awareness necessary when under threat. They also increase our heart rates, raise blood pressure through constricting the blood vessels, and increase sugar release to stimulate more strength in the muscles.

The brain does all of this so we can fight harder and run faster. It is natural. It is organic, but it is also increasingly unnecessary unless an actual tiger is chasing us.

The issue is, all of these functions consume high amounts of energy. Due to the high energy demands, these mechanisms are placing on the body, the brain begins to turn off systems it does not consider to be necessary under conditions of threat. Fight-or-flight or stress states are meant to be temporary conditions. We are not meant to suffer the extended states of stress we experience today. 

The body is limited in the amount of energy it creates, so when the brain senses too high a demand by any system, it sends histamines to turn off other systems of the body, systems that are also energy consumers. The brain needs the energy our body creates to survive, so it will turn off as many systems as necessary to conserve energy. It will quite literally kill us trying not to die.

To date, pharmacology has discovered four major histamine receptors responsible for managing body systems during states of fight-or-flight.

The first of these recognized systems is the H-1 histamine transmitter. These transmitters are stored in the smooth muscle and endothelial cells and most directly affect the allergic response systems. As far as the brain is concerned, being in fight-or-flight – regardless of the reason for the trigger – is equivalent to being chased by a tiger. Allergic response systems either activate or deactivate depending on the perception of threat.

The second of the histamine transmitters currently being treated are the H-2 histamines. These histamines are stored in the gastric parietal cells and are directly responsible for the control of acid secretion in the digestive system. Of course, this is an expected histamine to be affected by fight-or-flight as it is so directly related to rest-and-digest. Our digestive system is a massive energy consumer and it will not work while a tiger is chasing us.

The third of the currently recognized histamines is H-3. These histamines are stored in the central nervous system and manage neurotransmitter control. If you think of the central nervous system as the body’s way of communicating with itself, it makes sense information regarding outside stimuli’s effect on our bodies would shut down this system during a fight-or-flight trigger.

When in states of an extreme trigger, you hear of parents lifting cars to save their children or running miles to get help or any other number of heroic physical acts. The brain needs to dismiss the damage this is doing while in the state of reaction, but it doesn’t mean damage hasn’t been done. 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. It can take that much time or more to reactivate systems after the fight-or-flight chemicals have been activated.

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 dendric cells and is directly responsible for the immune system. This is why we commonly find ourselves getting ill after periods of prolonged anxiety of why certain viral infections like the herpes virus become more active during times of stress.

The human body has an amazingly strong immune system when it is fully active. Stress is a byproduct of fight-or-flight triggers, so it makes sense that viruses that live in our bodies become active when the systems are turned off. Turn the system back on and the virus becomes ‘dormant’ again, or better put, our body is able to contain it and at times, even eliminate it.

There are a myriad of side effects we experience with overactive fight-or-flight mechanisms. As both epinephrine and histamine are also driven out of balance by the release of norepinephrine from the synaptic vesicles, there is a dramatically long list of physical illnesses resulting from the gross imbalance caused by these triggers.

The repeated activation and deactivation of these systems cause long term histamine imbalances. 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
Mood Disorders         Seizure Disorders Autism Neurological Diseases Hormone Imbalances Sleep-Wake Disorders Cognitive Function Disorders
Blood Vessel Dilation and many more.

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. Common side-effects occur with varying conditions because it is the histamine they are treating. It might be a medication for cancer or an antidepressant. Either illness could be the result of a single histamine imbalance.

While at the physical level, overactive fight-or-flight responses turn off vital systems and create more obvious pain and sickness, at a mental level, the symptoms we suffer can be significantly less measurable. Where conditions like depression and anxiety or highly reactive behavior might be noticeable, we will also experience a sense of being 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.’ More acute representations can show up as varying forms of mental illness. 

As I mentioned, the amygdala houses our emotional memories, so triggered states tend to elicit overly emotional behavior. We might experience being reactive or overly sensitive. We may feel anger, sadness, or fear. It might reveal itself as a lack of motivation or a lack of control. We may feel or even fear being isolated, abandoned or entirely alone. Each of our personal experiences can be vastly unique, but they will all have one common thread. We will be uncomfortable. For some, it might be mild discomfort or even suffering we consider inherent to life. For others, it will be anguish. For all of us, it is absolutely devastating to the body. While the threat may be no more than random perception, the suffering of both our mind and body is real.

This chemical release is the underlying cause of almost all pain and suffering. Physical mental and emotional pain are all the result of our bodies not functioning at their most efficient states.  

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