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Quelling the Adrenaline Response

Quelling the Adrenaline Response

Author: marlene johnson

At the end of this tutorial, the learner will understand and be able to use basic techniques to reduce intensity of their own fight or flight reaction.

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Video Transcription

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When we're upset, we're upset. We feel it emotionally. We feel it physically in our bodies. Is there any way to reduce the intensity of what we're feeling when we're in a conflict situation? Well, I'm Marlene, and that's a question I'd like to take up with you in today's tutorial. First, let's step back and review what happens when we get upset in conflict. It actually starts with the structure in the brain called the amygdala.

Now, the amygdala is a structure in the brain which interprets stimuli as threat or non-threat and initiates a fight or flight reaction. So we'll review that fight or flight reaction. But remember it comes from a perceived threat, real or maybe not real, that the amygdala's responding to. So a threat is a stimulus interpreted by the amygdala as harmful to an organism.

Now, the amygdala automatically has a response. It's not always accurate, but it sees a threat, and it responds as though it's harmful. That triggers the fight or flight response. And the flight or fight reaction is a condition in the body caused by the release of adrenaline preparing the body to flee from or combat a stimulus perceived as a threat by the amygdala.

So we have this adrenaline response, which puts our body at an alert and causes these reactions in our body where our heart beats faster, we began to breathe, we raise our tone of voice. In other words, we have reactions. We react automatically. Let's define reaction.

A reaction is behavior which is not consciously chosen but is automatic reflexive in a given context or in relation to a given stimulus. So, for example, you are in a conflict. You're in an argument and you flinch. Someone says something and you flinch. You raise your voice. You begin to gesture. You pace.

These things are automatic reactions, and you may not even realize you're having them. But you're having them in response to the fight or flight. So that's a reaction. Now, rather than react in this automatic way, what we want to do is respond consciously. So let's look at the difference between a response, which is conscious, and this reaction, which is really an unconscious thing.

I'm going to define response for you here. So, a response is behavior towards a given stimulus or in a given context that is consciously chosen, consciously chosen. So how do we do that? How do we consciously choose how to react when we're in full-blown reactive mode? Well, there are some techniques. There are some techniques that we can use in response here to the amygdala, and we call them relaxation techniques. Let me define relaxation for you.

OK, relaxation, it is the elimination of unnecessary tension activity in body or mind. Now, I think it's important here to note that it's unnecessary tension or activity. It's not that you're going to get rid of all tension. If you're in a conflict, you're going to feel a bit of the tension here with another party.

But when we are reacting in unconscious ways, there can be unnecessary tension and activity going on, and we want to control that. We want to consciously respond in a way that quells that reactive response. So when we say relax, it's not just going limp, laying like we're going to go lay on the beach somewhere. No, it's a conscious way to respond to our reactive tendencies.

So what are some of those methods? How can we consciously relax? Well, you may have heard this phrase, just stop. Take a deep breath. And actually it's a very wise thing to do. Breathe. Breathing is one of the first things that you can do to control yourself when you are having an upset reaction.

Now, typically what happens when we have the fight or flight reaction or we get into that cycle, one of the things that happens is that our heart starts to beat faster automatically. It's part of the autonomic nervous system. Actually slowing down our breathing can slow down the heart rate. There's a physiological connection here.

When we stop breathing fast and shallow, which is what we do when we're under stress, you stop and notice our breath. It's shallow, and it's quick. We take a moment and stop and consciously breathe in very slowly and breathe out slowly. It won't take long, only a matter of seconds, before we'll notice that our heart rate comes down, because the deep breathing actually stimulates a nerve in the autonomic nervous system which physiologically will slow the heart rate.

So there's some science here behind that little phrase, take a deep breath. So actually taking time, and when you take a deep breath, it's important to do it from your stomach. So you are actually inhaling in from your stomach, and you can feel the breath coming all the way up as opposed to just breathing in a shallow manner from your chest. So breathe.

Something else to do, and you may have heard this. Just count to 10. That's really taking a break. Sometimes we just need to cool down. We need to just say, look, I am going to go for a walk. Look, let me call you back. And literally get away from the situation so that we can take a deep breath and we can notice more consciously what is actually happening.

So breathing and taking a break are two immediate actions that we can take. And once we take a break, we can perhaps then think a little more consciously about some ways that we can respond verbally and nonverbally. Perhaps we can lower our voices, because often when we're feeling stressed, our voice goes up high like this, and it gets louder.

Lowering our voices consciously can make a difference not only in how we feel but in the reactions someone else is going to have to us. Also notice our thoughts. Actually the emotions we're having probably start with some of the thoughts we've been having. Are they negative? Are they fearful? Is where we can substitute a positive, more affirming thought.

So, these are just some techniques that we can use to respond consciously in a way that will relax us so that we can eliminate unnecessary tension when we find ourselves in this fight or flight cycle. So thank you for being part of this tutorial, and I look forward to seeing you next time.

Terms to Know

A structure in the brain which interprets stimuli as threat or non- threat and initiates fight or flight reaction.

Fight or Flight Reaction

A condition in the body caused by the release of adrenaline, preparing the body to flee from or combat a stimulus perceived as a threat by the amygdala.


Behavior which is not consciously chosen but is automatic/reflexive in a given context or in relation to a given stimulus.


Elimination of unnecessary tension/activity in body or mind.


Behavior towards a given stimulus or in a given context that is consciously chosen.


A stimulus interpreted by the amygdala as harmful to an organism.