“Our research shows that the nervous system is in constant control of the development of immune cells, which are required for fighting cancers and infections,” Nevin and Srivastava tell Inverse in a joint email. “Key parts of the immune system are not able to develop normally in the absence of signals from the nervous system; indeed, they develop abnormally. These abnormal immune cells are quite deleterious for fighting cancer and potentially, infections.” https://www.inverse.com/mind-body/nervous-system-fight-or-flight-cancer-immunity
The “fight or flight” response is our bodies response to threatening experiences and prepares our body to respond to the threat, but if this response never subsides, then it can have adverse affects on our immune system. I felt this would be a good time to revisit how stress and fear can negatively affect our immune system.
The natural bodily response to fear or stress is called the Fight or flight response. The brain receives information regarding stimuli (the threat) from the eyes and ears alerting the amygdala. When the amygdala interprets the message as a threat it sends a distress signal to the hypothalamus. This activates the autonomic nervous system which controls heart rate, pupil dilation, blood pressure, breathing, and vessel dilation or constriction. The Autonomic Nervous system is composed of two parts: parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous systems. The Sympathetic Nervous System elicits the Fight or Flight response. Adrenaline is released increasing blood flow to the muscles and increasing the heart rate preparing the body to make a quick exist. Adrenaline also triggers the release of glucose and fat increasing energy. As the adrenaline begins to subside, the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal is then activated. Hormones are released that stimulate the release of cortisol from the adrenal glands. Cortisol will continue to be released as long as the brain continues to perceive something as a threat. Cortisol will go down when the perceived threat is over. The parasympathetic nervous system will then kick in causing relaxation and calm.
Studies have shown that chronic levels of stress continue to activate the release of cortisol. Overtime, cortisol suppresses the immune system increasing our risk of illness. Cortisol also promotes weight gain. Increase levels of adrenaline also can damage arteries and increase blood pressure increasing our risk of heart disease and stroke.
“Scientists know chronic, long-term stress can negatively influence immunity by increasing inflammation and decreasing levels of white blood cells called lymphocytes. It’s also been shown that heightened sympathetic nervous system activity due to stress can impair effective cancer immunity” (https://www.inverse.com/mind-body/nervous-system-fight-or-flight-cancer-immunity).
In this Inverse article, researchers took mice implanted with cancer, and manipulated their sympathetic nervous system, disrupting the production of norepinephrine. This disruption interfered with an important signal. Without this signal, myeloid-derived suppressor cells could not mature. These immature cells accumulated, which suppressed the immune system, and promoted tumor growth. Researchers concluded:
“We show that a steady but low-level sympathetic nervous signal is required to drive the maturation of immune cells capable of fighting tumors, and potentially infections,” Nevin and Srivastava explain.
These researchers hope to develop drugs that will help cancer patients in the future. The key, I want to make here, is that our sympathetic nervous system is important to the normal production of immune cells. Immune cells help us fight cancer and infections. Low level activity is the key, not a constant “Fight or Flight” response.
So how can we tame our sympathetic nervous system? How can we help our sympathetic nervous system remain activate at low levels and not be over activated to the point of physical illness? I believe the answer in found in Christ, in His Presence.
Fear and stress activate the “Fight or Flight” response, so peace and joy are the antidotes. Two keys to taming the sympathetic nervous system are found in Proverb 17:22:
A happy heart is good medicine and a cheerful mind works healing but a broken spirit dries up the bones.
Our mind is connected to our immune system through small vessels. Fearful and negative thoughts release chemicals that can have a negative affect on our health. Choosing to think faith based thoughts and choosing joy over despair, brings life to our body and soul.
My peace came, when I understood and choose, to believe that I was loved and cared for by my Heavenly Father. Understanding His perfect love, drove out fear (1 John 4:18). Anxiety is restlessness and torment. Trying to protect myself, my family, and my patients was exhausting. I feared retribution from God, believing I had to performed rightly in order to be loved and protected by God-Abba. I have since learned that God loved me before I was born, and all I have to do is submit to His care, and believe that His love surrounds me like a shield. The process began with the renewing of my mind. I committed myself to reading and hearing the word, worship, and prayer. This is what Psalms 91 calls the “secret place” or alone time with the Father. In the “secret place”, Abba began to show me that He was able to protect and to heal. My healing began with first believing that God loved me, would not leave me, and that He desired to have an intimate relationship me. I made the decision to seek Him with all my heart, to know Him, and His ways. It has brought me peace, joy, and prosperity. I realized I could not protect or save myself, and I needed assurance that can only be found in Christ.
For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Ephesians 6:12
Recently, I saw on the news a drone video clip of a surfer. The water was a beautiful aqua blue and very calm. All of a sudden, a shark came out of no where towards the surfer. The shark was inches from attacking the surfer, but suddenly, it turned away diving back down into the ocean. This scene, was to me, a prophetic picture of the protection of Christ. In this world, there are unseen dangers, but He has promised protection and care for us who dwell in His safety.
The days ahead may have ups and downs, but if we are rooted in LOVE, we can prosper even in the storms of life.
Isaiah 26:3 You will guard him and keep him in perfect and constant peace whose mind [both its inclination and its character] is stayed on You, because he commits himself to You, leans on You, and hopes confidently in You.
I believe the answer to a healthy immune system is a mind and heart focused on Christ. Where and what are you focused on today?
Focusing your heart and mind on Christ, will bring peace and hope. Christ said, “if you have seen me you have seen the Father” (John 14:9). Jesus came to heal and to restore us back to himself. God disarmed the principalities and powers that rage against us and made a bold display and public example of them, in triumphing over them in Him and in it the cross (Colossians 2:15). A mind focused on Jesus, and the Kingdom of God, will strengthen the spirit and bring health to the body. Remember John’s prayer:
Beloved, I pray that you may prosper in every way and [that your body] may keep well, even as [I know] your soul keeps well and prospers (3 John 1:2).
Being strong in mind and spirit, will helps us navigate the days ahead. Let’s be like these heads of household:
And these were the heads of their fathers’ houses: Epher, Ishi, Eliel, Azriel, Jeremiah, Hodaviah, and Jahdiel, mighty men of strength of mind and spirit [enabling them to encounter danger with firmness and personal bravery], famous men, and heads of the houses of their fathers. 1 Chronicles 5:24
You are loved. You have always been loved. The Father is calling you back to His perfect love, the love Adam and Eve had in the garden. They were made in Love to experience that Love in it’s fullness. We have that same access. Run to Him, because He will run to you and shower you with kisses (Luke 15:20)!
2 thoughts on “Strong in Mind and Spirit: Taming the “Fight or Flight” Response”
I am a walking testimony of the power of words. Until I believed, truly believed that I was loved by Jesus, I was extremely unhealthy. Then, one day in 2005, I decided to ask God about finding me a new doctor! I am alive today because of the instructions that are listed and decreed over us individually and are found in the Bible! I’m alive because of Jesus and Dr. Allison Rolston! I only wish people could actually know this about me instead of reading this about me!
You are truly a walking testimony! I am honored that The Great Physician-Jesus allowed me to be part of your journey. Love you lots