How to Handle the Fight, Flight, Freeze Response

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Like all creatures, humans have a built in response system that helps to deal with threats or danger. This is called the Fight, Flight, or Freeze response (3F). 

This system has existed since our prehistoric ancestors, allowing them to survive in the wild and the unknown. 

Let’s take the threat of a sabre-tooth tiger for instance. The 3F response will allow us to do one of the following:

  • Fight – to help defend or fight off the threat.
  • Flight – to help run away from the threat.
  • Freeze – to help hide from the threat.

We may no longer live in such a harsh environment and there are very few sabre-tooth tigers, however this 3F response system still exists in us and can be triggered by stressors in our lives. 

There is a part of our brains called the “amygdala” that scans and senses danger, triggering our bodies into survival mode, and activates one of the 3F responses. All of this happens in a split second and our bodies will react even before we can process the situation. 

On a physical level, when we’re in this mode, we may experience: 

  • Heavy breathing
  • Increased heart rate
  • Dry mouth
  • Nausea 
  • Increased perspiration
  • Our bladder relaxes and we may involuntarily relieve ourselves
  • Blood moves away from our extremities (hence the phrase “white knuckle terror”) 
  • Blood diverts to the larger muscle groups readying us to move if needed. 
  • Or muscles may tense up. 

Even though we may not be in physical danger, our brains can still trigger the 3F response from stress. For example, our brains process the fear of public speaking, the same way it would process the threat of attack. 

In regards to social anxiety, we may lash out at others (fight), or avoid difficult conversations (flight), or even shut down and not be able to speak to people (freeze). 

The classes that we provide at I Matter Foundation can help to mitigate these adverse reactions. 

One of our participants, Louise*, has struggled with anxiety.  After attending only three classes a friend of Louise’s noticed that she was more confident, less affected by anxiety, and was more inclined to try new things. This new-found level of confidence and control meant that the ‘flight’ and ‘freeze’ responses were less likely to be triggered in Louise. As a result she is much more engaged in relationships and in everyday life. 

To find out more information about our classes, visit http://imatterfoundation.com.au/classes/ 

* Name changed to protect identity

Author: Don Valix

  • Digital Content Creator
  • Health and Fitness Enthusiast
  • Amateur Boxer.
  • Krav Maga Practitioner (working on being an Instructor) 

 

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