Stress is normal. You are probably used to experiencing stress as a parent. Unfortunately, when your child has a burn, you will be put under more stress.

“They were talking about her skin graft and we had to keep going back, and it was the not knowing in between whether she was going to need it or not. You worry about it but you’d worry more if you knew! And then you’re traveling so far, and there’s your fuel. When you get to the hospital there’s parking, finding a space first! Then in the hospital the kid is being fed but mum’s not, so then there’s more money for lunch… It’s constantly money all the time and, you know, you’re not working so you’re not making money. And the worry’s going round all the time.”

When we are under stress or feeling anxious, the body reacts as though it is in danger. This is a natural reaction designed to help us to react quickly to danger – to ‘fight, flee or freeze’. However, it can be triggered by our thoughts when there is no actual danger. This stress response is sometimes called ‘fight or flight.’

Fight or Flight Response

The following section explains what happens during the ‘fight or flight response.’ Watch the animation or read about it below.

Many things happen in the body during the fight or flight response. These are caused by our central nervous system telling our body to get ready to fight or to get away from danger.

There are noticeable effects:

  • Fast heart beat
  • Palpitations
  • Chest pains
  • Tense muscles
  • Sweating
  • Fast and shallow breathing/hyperventilation
  • Dry mouth

There are also hidden effects:

  • The brain is getting the body ready for action
  • Adrenaline is released
  • Blood pressure rises
  • The liver releases glucose to provide energy for muscles
  • Digestion slows or stops
  • Cortisol is released (this depresses the immune system)

Most of the symptoms of stress, anxiety, and fear can be explained by the fight or flight response. For example:

Bodily reactionReason for this reactionWhat you experience
Your brain struggles to think logically.When you’re in danger, you don’t need to think, you just need to react.You can’t think straight. You tend to act first and think later.
Your brain tunes in to notice any potential danger around you.You need to spot danger to survive a dangerous situation.You tend to notice things that add to stress. It is hard to notice signs that everything is OK and you become more anxious.
Your heart beats faster and the small blood vessels dilate.Your heart pumps blood around the body to your lungs and large muscles so that you are ready to run away.Your heart is pounding. You might feel lightheaded and sweaty.
Your digestive system slows down and your bowels relax.You have no need to digest food when you’re under attack. You need to empty your bowels so that you can escape quickly.You feel butterflies in your stomach and you don’t feel hungry. Instead, you need to go to the toilet.

All of the ‘fight or flight’ reactions are normal and helpful in dangerous situations. However, they can make you feel unwell if they are experienced every day. They can also make it hard for you to think logically or rationally.

If you have been, or are, very stressed, angry or worried, then you will need time to calm down before you can think ‘straight’ again. Relaxation exercises can help you to do this and you can read about managing stress here.