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Flight/Fight - 1 Page Lesson

Updated: Jan 10, 2022

This is a segment from my Polyvagal One Pagers free PDF in my File Share. There are more short lessons on the fundamentals of the Polyvagal Theory in that PDF as well. These are useful for your own short lessons, classes you might teach or handouts you might give out at a seminar or workshop.


The flight and fight system is the sympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system.

The flight and fight system is important for optimizing the body for evasion or aggression. It

repurposes resources because some functions are not necessary during moments of danger. For example, chewing is not necessary when in danger, so saliva is not produced and the mouth goes dry. The body needs to stay at a higher level of energy, so breathing becomes shallow and heart rate increases. These changes are intended to be temporary; for small bursts when in times of danger.

When in the flight/fight state, we lose our social engagement with others:

  • increase in distance when in flight

  • invasion of space when in fight

  • removal of eye contact or aggressive eye contact

  • flat facial affect with wider eyes

  • muscles tense in preparation for survival

  • ears attune to sounds of danger and not vocal prosody

  • voice becomes more monotone and rushed

The world is: dangerous, threatening, out of control

Thoughts become: concrete, evaluative, focused on the past or the future

Feelings of: danger, tenseness, anxiety, anger

Able to: mobilize, escape, avoid, use aggression

Unable to: self-regulate, provide co-regulation opportunities, think critically, weigh options, be


For even more information on the Polyvagal Theory, check out these other resources I have:

  • You can download a 1-page Polyvagal Theory resource in my File Share. There's this and many many other one-pagers for you to use.

  • The Polyvagal 101 page

  • the Polyvagal Theory on the Stuck Not Broken podcast, episodes 101-109

  • plus everything else I have in the blog and the Polyvagal 101 course below

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