Anxiety and the Fight-Flight-Freeze Response

Anxiety and the Fight-Flight-Freeze Response

The fight-flight-freeze response is our body’s way of reacting to threats or dangers, whether they are real (i.e. life or death situations) or perceived (i.e. an upcoming test, job interview, etc). Our body’s three main ways of responding to possible threats are to “fight” through the situation, “flight” by avoiding, or “freeze” by shutting down.

How our body and mind respond to fight-flight-freeze:

When our amygdala (the part of our brain responds to a threat) detects fear or stress, our body’s sympathetic (involuntary) nervous system becomes activated which can cause our body to respond in the following ways:

  • increased heart rate – mind racing (thinking errors)
  • muscle tension – shaking/sweating/chills
  • shallow/rapid breathing – faintness or lightheadedness
  • pupils dilate – bladder issues

During this response, our mind can engage in thinking errors (assuming the worst, all-or-nothing thinking, blaming, personalizing, etc) and we can be impulsive.

Ways to regulate and cope with our fight-flight-freeze response:

  • ground yourself using your 5 senses
  • practice deep breathing and muscle relaxation
  • improve your sleep hygiene/routine
  • eat a healthy/well balanced diet
  • engage in regular exercise
  • avoid/reduce drug and alcohol consumption
  • understand your triggers and how your body responds
  • challenge your thinking errors and work on reframing with positive thoughts
  • practice activities like mindfulness, meditation, and yoga
  • establish boundaries and reduce emotional vulnerability
  • practice exposure therapy
  • talk to your doctor about medication

When your fight-flight-freeze response is frequently activated, it leaves us feeling tired, exhausted, and unable to live in the present moment. By helping to understand your fight-flight-freeze response, you will be better able to regulate and cope so that you can be more present and engaged in life. It’s important to remember that not all anxious feelings are bad. A healthy amount of anxiety can help motivate us to succeed and accomplish tasks.

For more information about Anxiety and the Fight-Flight-Freeze Response visit: Anxiety Canada’s Website


Blog Post by Registered Social Worker, Justin Beahm


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