Fight or Flight: What Wild Animals Can Teach Us About Stress

Learning to relax out of a stress state is critical to our long-term health
By Kevin Rose
Kevin Rose
Kevin Rose
February 2, 2019 Updated: February 2, 2019

Stress hits us from all sides and affects everything we do. Constant stress loads create an underlying tension and keep us feeling on-edge, ready for the next shoe to drop. This can lead to serious anxiety issues and pull us away from leading a peaceful and happy life.

When we are confronted with challenging situations, our bodies react with the fight, flight, or freeze response. The response helps us decide whether we should stay and fight, run, or remain still during a threatening situation. Raising our heart and respiratory rates and heightening our senses, this primal response occurs to keep us vigilante. While the fight, flight, or freeze response is important, we often get stuck in this revved up state and feel continuously anxious and uncomfortable.

Animals, however, don’t have this problem.

Animals in the wild must always remain alert to their surroundings. Predator and prey alike are always vigilant to the subtleties of environmental changes like scents in the air, vibrations on the ground, sounds, sights, and tastes of geographical locations. These stimuli carry messages that allow animals to react and respond, maintaining a balanced existence, exerting energy only when necessary.

When an animal hunts or defends its territory, it enters into a high-stress or survival state only as long as needed to resolve the situation. Once a threat or opportunity has been addressed, the animal returns to a natural, calm, relaxed state. Returning to a relaxed state allows the animals to conserve energy and maintain optimal health.

Human beings, on the other hand, often stay in high-stress states long after an initial survival trigger has passed. Remaining in this stressed state requires enormous amounts of energy and eventually overloads the body, breaking down the operating system. Eventually, the body succumbs to the heavy stress load.

However, if we can clearly tune into the fact that the threat has passed, or become more aware of our senses to relax ourselves, we can mimic the stress and calm cycle seen in nature.

Bringing awareness to the five senses interrupts high-stress states that drain our energy. By simply engaging our senses, our minds become focused on the present moment and cannot continue to ruminate about past or future events. Much of the ongoing stress we feel is self-inflicted, a physical response to the mental activity of creating worrisome stories in our heads about what could happen, or reacting with stress to things that have already passed.

So instead of getting riled up about an insult at work and imaging a confrontation that feels real enough to stimulate your fight or flight response, tune into your body and relax.

When we become present, we remove the drama associated with past events and the “scenario building” we use to predict future outcomes. Making the simple, conscious choice to engage the senses and become present in the moment shifts our perceptions and quiets our minds. When the mind is quiet, we feel at ease. When we feel at ease our bodies use less energy and operate more efficiently.

Pain and stress are the only ways our bodies can communicate about a problem in our systems. If we ignore these messages, the stress and pain will simply increase until we are forced to pay attention. But if we use our rising pain or stress levels to direct us towards our senses and present moment awareness, we attune ourselves to our body.

The next time you feel yourself stressing or in pain, try these steps in rapid order:

1. Wiggle your toes and bring your awareness down through your body. Move your fingers hands, arms, and legs a little. Roll your neck and feel your head connected to your neck as you move.

2. Consciously focus your mind on the stress-inducing subject. As you bring the subject into your awareness feel where the stress goes. Do you begin tightening your jaw, neck, shoulders, chest, or some other body part?

3. Quantify the stress level, in this moment, on a scale of 0 to 10, with 0 being no stress and 10 being immense stress.

4. Pick up an object around you, and really concentrate on your fingertips as you feel the texture and temperature.

5. Look closely at the object, what are its shape, color, and size?

6. Hold the object to your nose, does it have a smell?

7. Tap the object and listen to the sound it makes.

8. If the object is something you can taste, notice what it feels like on your tongue.

9. Once again, feel the object in your fingertips.

10. Measure the stress level again, 0 to 10. Do you notice a change?

When we listen to our bodies’ urgings and respond with an effective reaction, we are able to resolve stress responses quickly. If we ignore the urgings or begin overreacting to them, we lose the ability to think clearly or respond effectively.

So, next time you feel stress or pain rising, simply pick up an object and focus the senses. You will be amazed by the results.

Kevin Rose is a licensed massage therapist and diplomate-certified craniosacral therapist. This article was originally published on

Kevin Rose
Kevin Rose