The Fight or Flight Response and Acupuncture

Wikipedia Definition of Fight or Flight

The Fight-or-Flight response (also called hyper-arousal, or the acute stress response) is a physiological reaction that occurs in response to a perceived harmful event, attack, or threat to survival.[1] It was first described by Walter Bradford Cannon.[a][2] His theory states that animals react to threats with a general discharge of the sympathetic nervous system, preparing the animal for fighting or fleeing.[3] More specifically, the adrenal medulla produces a hormonal cascade that results in the secretion of catecholamines, especially norepinephrine and epinephrine.[4] The hormones estrogen, testosterone, and cortisol, as well as the neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin, also affect how organisms react to stress.[5]

This response is recognized as the first stage of the general adaptation syndrome that regulates stress responses among vertebrates and other organisms.[6]

How Does Acupuncture Help?

By: Lynn Jaffee, LAc, Dipl. OM, MaOM

At one time or another, all of us experience stress.  These feelings are a healthy response to events in our lives that may feel beyond our control.  When we are healthy and the stress is short-lived, we are usually able to recover without too much wear and tear to our overall health.  However, when the stress is extreme, or if it lasts a long time, [or if we do not take time to recover] our emotional health and ultimately, our physical health begin to suffer.

Our bodies are hardwired to help us react to stressful events.  At the first sign of a threat, whether real or perceived, our sympathetic nervous system kicks in and facilitates what is called the "fight or flight" response.  Our heart rate increases, our pupils dilate, and our digestion temporarily shuts down, directing blood to our extremities, so that if need be, we can either fight what is threatening us, or turn and run if the threat is too formidable.

More often than not, the stress in our lives is long-term, and as a result, we find ourselves in a constant state of "fight or flight", or stress.  Over time, the constant state of stress takes its toll.  Cortisol, the body's stress hormone elevates, blood pressure increases, and our immune function is suppressed.  Over time, these symptoms become worse and can develop into anxiety, depression, fatigue, digestive problems, and tension headaches.

Emotions from a Chinese Medical Perspective

In Chinese medicine, stress, anxiety, depression or any strong emotion interrupts the smooth flow of energy throughout the body. According to Chinese medical theory, energy flows through our body through a network of "roads", almost like a highway system. Stress, anger, or any intense emotion acts like a traffic jam, blocking the free flow of energy in the body. For example, many people who are very stressed out complain of upper back, shoulder and neck pain. This is because stress is causing tension in those areas, blocking the free flow of energy, causing pain, tightness, and often leading to headaches.

In a highway system, when there is road construction or an accident, traffic may be also backed up on other secondary roads that feed into or out of the affected area. This is true in the body, too. Stress may affect many other parts of the body, most notably digestion, the ability to sleep, pain conditions, and blood pressure. Stress can also aggravate an already troublesome health condition.

Through acupuncture, theses energy blockages can be addressed. From a Western viewpoint, acupuncture works to alleviate stress by releasing natural pain-killing chemicals in the brain, called endorphins. In addition, acupuncture improves circulation of blood throughout the body, which oxygenates the tissues and cycles out cortisol and other waste chemicals. The calming nature of acupuncture also decreases heart rate, lowers blood pressure and relaxes the muscles. - quote from Lynn Jaffee, LAc, Dipl. OM, MaOM


At The Balance Point, you will almost always hear "fight or flight" mentioned during a consult with MuQi. MuQi believes that this is an underlying cause of many complaints that bring clients to acupuncture. Unless this issue is addressed and steps are taken to correct the underlying causes the fight or flight response, the body will have a very difficult time healing itself.

If you are experiencing the following symptoms that are mentioned within the article above, then acupuncture and lifestyle changes may help relieve these stress related symptoms.

  • anxiety
  • depression
  • fatigue
  • digestive problems
  • tension headaches, digestion
  • the ability to sleep
  • pain conditions
  • blood pressure
  • upper back, shoulder and neck pain

Please contact MuQi at The Balance Point for a consultation to help you on the road to a more stress and anxiety free life. MuQi can be reached to schedule an appointment at Vim 360.