You’re standing in the front of the class, amongst people you have known for (probably) years, and what do you do? Begin to sweat ferociously and turn as red as that lecturer who had his flies undone the whole time, until he finally saw himself on screen. You look down… nope! So, why is it that we react in this strange way when there is nothing to be afraid of? The answer is plain old hormones, sometimes they are our worst enemy (when they lead you to do things you will most definitely regret in the morning) but without them, we just wouldn’t be able to function correctly.
Many of you have probably already heard of the ‘fight or flight’ response at some point throughout your schooling years, and it is this evolutionary adaptation we still have that is the root cause of our embarrassing responses to simple situations. But, why on earth do we have this mechanism that clearly is just a hassle in modern times? It dates back to the times when man, and indeed every other animal, would have to react rapidly to dangerous stimuli, such as a sabre tooth tiger, and either run away to a safe place or fight back in order to maintain their territorial advantage.
As we have adapted and evolved into modern day times however, the things we are afraid of are less evident, and sometimes, our bodies will still react in this manner to imagined threats. Phobias for example can cause the response of the fight or flight system, one may begin to shake, sweat, and swear monstrously at a tiny little spider they see in the corner of their bedroom that clearly is not about to kill them.
When you encounter such a situation, your sympathetic nervous system (that regulates blood pressure and is active during stressful events) initiates the hormones adrenaline and noradrenaline to be released from a gland situated on the kidneys. This then leads to the well-known response to stressful situations such as increased heart rate, increased respiratory action and increased blood flow to your muscles to facilitate the fight or flight process.
So, the next time you are standing in front of a lecture hall or come across a spider from the other side of the room, think about whether the situation is actually threatening to your survival. You will most likely speak for the next 3 minutes to your peers and then happily sit back down in your seat, probably with a packet of crisps and a bottle of coke to get you through the lecture.