I remember being around 14 years old in the African bush in the late 1980s’. My friends and I were staying at a game lodge that my friends’ parents owned. We were 14 and recklessly brave and decided to see how close we could get to an elephant that was roaming around our lodge.

On foot, with only thongs on, we preceded to move closer to this majestic animal in its natural habitat. After about 30 minutes of slowly getting closer the elephant decided it wasn’t happy with us. We had got too close, and it had decided to send us a very clear message.

As you can probably imagine, it started flapping its ears and thumping its feet. To this day I can still remember the African land trembling beneath my feet, the panic rising through my entire body and my instinct to escape the imminent danger propelling me forward into a sprint that I would never be able to replicate again – it was pure survival.

I ran like I have never ran before and didn’t stop until I had reached the safety of our lodge. If only I could have taken that run to the 800m races for our school’s athletics day – I would definitely have won a medal.

Once we were all safely inside the simple thatch roof lodge, catching our breath, I realised that I no longer had my thongs on. Somewhere on the run back I had lost them.

I don’t remember much of the run back to the lodge as I was in pure survival. My body was perfectly designed and programmed to use this sharp burst of energy and increase in strength to flee the danger and shut down the more evolved part of my brain so that I was able to survive.

The ability of our brain to protect us from physical danger is obviously quite incredible. We have been perfectly designed to increase our chance of survival as a species.

So, let’s look at what happens when our fight flight response kicks into gear and how this response can negatively impact us in modern western life.

Whenever our brain perceives a potential threat, it activates the fight or flight response to protect us, from what it believes, is imminent danger. Our brain believes that by aiding our escape or preparing us for battle, it enhances our chances of survival. This instinct served our ancestors well as they confronted and eluded predators that could have eradicated us. This primal instinct absolutely protected me the day of my elephant encounter.

The challenge however is, as modern-day humans, we still exhibit the same stress response, which means our brains gear us up to run or fight for our lives even when we aren’t in mortal danger but feel anxious and overwhelmed due to our day-to-day stressors.

This anxiety and stress could be centred around having too much to get done in the day, a work meeting we are worried about, our computer program not working or analysing every word we said to our boss during our last conversation. All these factors and challenges cause distress for the human brain, yet they do not pose an immediate threat to our lives nor necessitate fighting or fleeing for safety.

Unfortunately, though, by being exposed to, and feeling the accumulating distress, we activate the fight or flight response which leaves us feeling anxious and ready to either fight our challenges or flee them.

The more frequently this response is triggered in our modern lives and the less we use strategies to release the accumulating stress, the more likely it is to recur (and it will require less to activate it, resulting in a more intense reaction).

Think about those times when you are already stressed, and even the smallest incident can push you over the edge. You have no space between stimulus and response and feel like you are in state of constant reaction. Your nervous system is in overdrive.

If your fight-or-flight response has been working tirelessly throughout the day or even persistently for weeks or months on end, you will often find yourself snapping over the most trivial details. As the stress accumulates in your body your reactions increase too.

If you look at the STIMULUS RESPONSE visual you will note that as our space between stimulus and response gets smaller, we are more likely to step into reaction. By consistently reacting to the triggers in life and not releasing the accumulating stress, we create a habitual cycle. If we haven’t learned ways to release this accumulation and reset our brain into a healthier pattern, we will no doubt create a coping mechanism to help us deal with the building stress and overwhelm. Often these coping mechanisms are our unhealthy habits or addictions. The BIG challenge with these habits is that they don’t release the stress but often only increase the challenge we are facing.

The MEGA SELF Method has been devised around this quote by Viktor Frankl which this infographic represents.

Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our ability to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.

As you can see from the illustration – our aim is to create a life in which we are predominantly living in the bottom area of the triangle. We have cultivated space. We have created a strong vision and a powerful reason WHY. We are choosing to live our lives by design and choose habits and behaviours that take us toward our long-term vision.

On the other hand – if we are living our life by default, not showing up for ourselves and living lives of inaction or stagnancy, our space will tend to get smaller and smaller. As our space gets smaller, we have an increased tendency to react, which creates less and less space. To deal with the limited space we engage in unhelpful habits to suppress and avoid. Eventually we find ourselves at the top of the triangle, out of control and in a state of survival.

Ultimately, to stay in the bottom area of the triangle (where we have more space) we need to choose daily habits that deactivate the stress response. We need to find ways to release our increasing levels of adrenaline, cortisol, vasopressin, and norepinephrine – these hormones are released by the body to help us deal with stressful situations by increasing our heart rate, blood pressure and blood sugar levels and giving us extra strength and energy.

By running away from the elephant my body used these hormones in their perfectly designed way. The fight flight response saved my life.

But if I am just sitting at my desk getting stressed about the amount of work I need to get done, and this stress continues day in and day out, the accumulation of stress hormones will eventually start to impact my physical, mental, and emotional health.

Spending too much time in the top area of the triangle has the potential to lead to stress related health problems such as –

  • Heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Depression and Anxiety
  • Memory Problems, Brain Fog, and Cognitive Decline
  • Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
  • Weakened Immune System
  • Gastrointestinal Problems
  • Weight Gain
  • Hair and Skin Problems
  • Sleep Problems

One way to reduce this accumulation is using lifestyle medicine. In today’s blog I will discuss 4 Tools to Power Down the Fight-or-Flight Response using MEGA SELF strategies.


Exercise is a top priority for managing stress, anxiety, anger, and other forms of emotional distress.

The fight-or-flight response is intended to be followed by bursts of physical activity. It prepares you to fight or flee from the presenting danger, and once you stop to catch your breath, your brain recognizes that you have survived and subsequently switches off the response. However, in today’s fast paced life, many of us don’t physically run or fight; instead, we allow stress to build up within our bodies, preventing the response from shutting down.

Exercise therefore can be a simple and effective method to calm the nervous system. Not only does it consume the energy generated by your body, but it also metabolizes excess stress hormones. Lower levels of stress hormones translate to a calmer body and mind.

If available and appropriate for you, exercise is also the quickest and often the most available way to calm the stress response. Try not to over complicate it. Any movement that elevates your heart rate will support you. Just five minutes of intense, sweat-inducing movement initiates the breakdown of surplus stress hormones, signalling to the brain that the fight or flight response has served its purpose. Follow that with some deep breathing and you will have replicated the natural response your body was designed for.

Exercise also stimulates the production of endorphins, which are the feel-good hormones. It’s an easy win-win situation.

  1.  MEDITATE – Switch on the Relaxation Response

Learning breathing exercises, meditation and progressive muscle relaxation is incredible in learning how to switch off the fight-or-flight response. What you need to remember is that if you have been stuck in a stress cycle for years, doing a 10-minute meditation for 1 week is not going to provide instant relief. Your brain has spent a lot of time aiming to keep you safe so it’s not going to just forget this habitual pattern.

By creating a daily practise in which you ‘teach’ your body and brain calming and relaxing techniques whilst still in a relatively calm state, will then allow you to access this ability when a stressful period arises.

I find that doing a 20-minute meditation or breathing practise daily is incredibly helpful.


Surrounding yourself with friends, openly sharing your experiences, and enjoying laughter all contribute to an increase in the production of endorphins. These activities create a sense of comfort and signal to your brain that you are safe and not in any danger.

It’s important to realize that most people have similar fears and worries. By confiding in a group of friends or family that you feel safe with, you are likely to find understanding and empathy. Share your stories, listen to theirs, and enjoy the feeling of connection. Moreover, laughter itself acts as a remedy for stress. Look for opportunities to inject humour into your daily life—watch a funny movie or spend time with friends who make you laugh uncontrollably.


Gratitude also has a powerful impact on stress reduction within the body. When you experience and express gratitude, it shifts your focus from negative emotions and stressors to positive aspects of your life. This shift in perspective can have physiological and psychological benefits that help alleviate stress.

Gratitude activates the brain’s reward pathways, leading to the release of dopamine and other “feel-good” neurotransmitters. These chemicals promote feelings of pleasure and contentment, counteracting the effects of stress hormones such as cortisol. By consciously cultivating gratitude, you stimulate the production of these positive neurochemicals, which can help reduce stress levels.

Additionally, practicing gratitude promotes a shift in mindset and cognitive patterns. It encourages you to acknowledge and appreciate the good things in your life, fostering a sense of abundance rather than scarcity. This shift can counteract the negative thought patterns that contribute to stress and anxiety.

Gratitude can also enhance your overall well-being by improving sleep quality, boosting immune function, and promoting a more optimistic outlook on life. When you regularly focus on the positive aspects of your life and express gratitude for them, it becomes easier to navigate challenging situations with resilience and a calmer state of mind.

To sum it up, disabling the fight-or-flight response is a step-by-step journey that requires patience and regular practice. PROGRESS ALWAYS OVER PREFECTION.

You can use these MEGA SELF strategies and customize them to suit your individual requirements. By valuing your decision to live your life by design, you can take back control over how you respond to stress and empower yourself to live your life primarily in the bottom of the MEGA SELF triangle.

This doesn’t mean that you will never move to the top of the triangle – but what it does mean, is that you will have strategies to reset yourself until you are back in an empowered space.

And remember, you possess the ability to deactivate the fight-or-flight response and bring calmness back to your mind and body. Start utilising these tools today, so that you can THRIVE in life rather than simply SURVIVE.