Fight or Flight Response
When a person experiences a digestive symptom, it's not uncommon to have negative thoughts about that symptom. Negative emotions (e.g., fear, frustration) put our bodies into a state of autonomic arousal, which is sometimes called the "Fight or Flight Response." Increases in stress hormones, blood pressure, heart rate, and changes in your digestive function are all part of this physiological reaction that occurs in response to perceived danger. Although this response is a crucial evolutionary mechanism meant to keep us safe from threats to our survival, for many people, this reaction can be overused.
The fight or flight response can be triggered even in response to stressful events that are not an actual threat to our physical safety, such as during the nervous anticipation when preparing to give a speech or in response to experiencing discomfort or pain in your abdomen. For individuals who experience chronic stress or uncomfortable physical symptoms, your body may be regularly in a state of autonomic arousal, potentially worsening the physical symptoms you started with.
How Relaxation Training Can Help
The good news is that your body has a physiological response called the parasympathetic nervous system response (sometimes called the "Rest and Digest Response") meant to counter the negative effects of autonomic arousal and help us relax. We can help train our bodies to switch over to this relaxing state by engaging in activities such as diaphragmatic breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, and guided imagery. These techniques, known collectively as relaxation training, are an essential behavioral component of CBT.