'Fight or flight': NBA Finals provoke primitive stress response, says scientist
Published Thursday, June 13, 2019 1:09PM EDT
Your living room or local bar might as well be a primitive jungle teeming with threats tonight during Game 6 of the NBA Finals.
Physiologically, the stress of watching the Toronto Raptors play the Golden State Warriors is the same as the “fight or flight” evolutionary responses that the human species developed in order to save our lives, said Greg Wells, an exercise scientist at the University of Toronto.
“That’s exactly the same way that our body is designed to respond to anything that we perceive as a threat,” he told CTV News Channel on Thursday. “Every time that Golden State scores a point we’re basically going through that experience over and over again.”
The physiological response is well measured in science: when we perceive information from the environment, it goes to the brain, where the neurons of the amygdala processes the information as a threat or not. If a threat is identified, signals are sent through the spinal cord that activate the adrenal glands near the kidney that dump cortisol and adrenaline into the system.
“Those hormones activate all different parts of your body to get it ready for action,” said Wells. “Your heart will start beating harder, your liver dumps sugar into your blood stream, your lungs open up, your pupils dilate.”
For the stressed bodies running up and down the basketball court, taming that primal stress response and maintaining focus is part and parcel to the game.
“That’s a standard skill that athletes are trained to (use),” he said. “The more that you can confine your attention, the better your chances of not getting distracted, and not worrying and activating all of those stress responses.”
For fans imbibing on barstools and couches during Game 6 of the NBA Finals at Scotiabank Arena, Wells has some simple advice:
“We need to take a few deep breaths,” he said. “Just calm down, relax. Don’t necessarily need to drink another whatever it is you’re drinking during the game. A few deep breaths works brilliantly for everybody.”
It’s advice he’ll have to use himself tonight, he said. “As a former Raptors season ticket holder I am stressed out of my mind right now.”