I wanted to go over this response system in order to write a related post next week. When that post is complete I will link it to the bottom of this one, and vice versa. It is just I do not want the length to deter anyone from digging into the depth of this topic.

What’s Fight or Flight?

Most of us have heard of the Fight or Flight response which is triggered by a threat, stress, frightening situations, and dangerous situations. The automatic nervous system (ANS) then triggers certain physiological responses. It is important to note it is a ‘perceived threat’ not necessarily a bear about to attack you from your closet.

Title: Getting to know your fight, flight and freeze response
Subtitle: How the brain responds to perceived threats
Image: three small icons of people. Boxer on the left, Runner in the middle, body with nervous system exposed to the left. Runner standing on image of a brain.

The basic biology of it

As I said about the ANS is triggered which is composed of the sympathetic and the parasympathetic nervous systems. The fight or flight response is involved with the sympathetic nervous system.

The sympathetic nervous system then stimulates our adrenal glands to release such things as adrenaline and noradrenaline.

The physiological responses triggered from fight, flight or freeze responses

  • Eyes– the pupils will dilite. So we can take in more light to improve our eyesight to attend to the ‘danger’. (May notice ‘tunnel vision’ or ‘sharper’ vision)
  • Ears- Hearing becomes more attuned and ‘sharper’.
  • Lungs– The breathing quickens and becomes more shallow in order to get more oxygen to the muscles.
  • Mouth– Dry mouth is common as blood constriction in the area tempoary stops the salivary glads from, well, producing salivia.
  • Heart– The heart rate will increase so that it can feed more blood, oxygen and energy into the body- prepping us to fight or flight.
  • Skin- You face will get flushed, while you will get pale. This is because blood is being sent to where it will be most needed, namely: brain, muscles, legs, arms
  • Stomach– When blood is directed away from the digestive system we can get that fluttery ‘butterflies’ feeling.
  • Overall tense muscles- The body is preparing for action which can make them tense, shaky or tremble.
  • Pain– When these responses are trigger, pain is dampened. Basic survival mode.
  • Mind– Our thoughts begin to go nuts- racing. This is meant to help us think faster so we can respond to the danger. But we may also hyperfocus on the danger. Can cause one to get dizzy or feel light-headed- if we feel like Flight but do not Do it, that can cause that feeling. Which I am familiar with when it comes to public speaking.

But there can also be emotional responses.

A person in fight or flight may feel extremely alert, agitated, confrontational, or like they need to leave a room or location. A severe fight or flight response can become a panic attack. It can also trigger asthma attacks in people with the condition.

Medical News Today

History

The American physiologist, Walter Cannon, came up with the term which he also called ‘The acute stress response’.

Cannon remarked that this process happened unconsciously and automatically and served the function of helping the animal to defend itself in life-threatening situations by prepping the body to run or fight.

Simply Psychology

The basics of Fight, Flight, Freeze

  1. Fight– Face whatever the perceived threat may be, even aggressively
  2. Flight- Yeah, screw this business… I’m outta here!
  3. Feeze– Maybe if I stand really, really still the threat will not even notice me.

Whether in physical danger or threat, or psychological perceived danger… we have all had these sorts of responses.

My examples:

Fight– What?! You just insulted my loved one! I am going to TEAR YOU A NEW ONE!
Flight- *Gets up to public speak* Hey, I’m Nikki… *Panic* I, um, uh *Panic more*
Feeze– *Gets up to do Kareokee* *Starts to sing and realizes people are LOOKING at ME* *Starts to sing quieter… quieter… completely loses voice and capacity to sing all together in full-on frozen mode.*

Getting into the depths of each response

while the fight or flight or freeze or fawn response happens automatically, sometimes it is activated with no real reason or danger; therefore, it is not always accurate

Simply Psychology

The reason it is good to understand each of these is to understand our reactions under perceived threat and high stress. When we see how we respond then we can begin to start to manage our response. Anxiety is one condition where we can feel threatened by non-threatening stressors. But it isn’t the only condition that can complicate our Fight, Flight or Freeze response as we will explore in my next post.

FIGHT- signs you are experiencing a fight response

  • Grinding your teeth and/or clenching your jaw
  • The desire to punch someone or something
  • Feeling intense anger, even to the point of harming someone, or yourself
  • Desire to stomp or kick or slam a door
  • Crying
  • Glaring at people
  • Upset stomach (Knotted, burning)
  • Attacking the percieved danger

FLIGHT- Signs of experiencing the flight response

  • Excessive exercise
  • Feeling fidgety or edgy
  • Feeling overly tense or trapped
  • Restlessly moving legs, feet, and arms
  • Overall restless body that you can’t stop moving
  • Numbness in extremities
  • Dilated eyes

FREEZE- Signs of a freeze response

Reduce the impact of the event: A 2017 articleTrusted Source suggests that the freeze response may be related to dissociation. Dissociation is something that can occur when a person has a traumatic experience. It makes severely distressing events feel less real, causing a person to feel numb or detached. This may explain why the freeze response is more common in people with previous experiences of trauma.

Medical News today

In addition to reducing the impact of the event, Freezing can help us prepare to act, help someone else to hide, and improve our visual perception.

  • Pale skin
  • Sense of dread or doom
  • Feeling stiff, heavy, cold, numb
  • Pounding heart rate
  • Decreased heart rate
  • Sensing tolerated stress

The one I haven’t discussed in this post is FAWN which is a trauma response.

When to seek help

  • When these responses become overly intense, at inapproriate times, and/or very frequent
  • Strong fear in non-threatening situations
  • Continously feeling “on edge”
  • Worry, nervousness, or fear that will not go away
  • Stress that interferes with our daily life
  • fear of nonthreatening situations
  • Inability to relax

Sources:

Other 2 posts in Series
Fibromyalgia and the Fight-Flight-Freeze Response
Ways to calm your fight or flight response

Chronic stress and the body
Chronic illness: Pandemic stress
Regulating emotions with chronic pain

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6 thoughts on “Getting to know your Fight, Flight and Freeze response

  1. Very informative post, Nikki! I’ve been hyper aware of my stress responses since getting my MECFS diagnosis and noticing that my responses were really out of control and then they’d knock me on my butt for a week because of all the adrenaline draining my energy. I’ve worked really hard to lessen these responses by avoiding drama, being firm with people who want more, and just saying flat-out that I can’t handle certain things without it taking an extreme toll on my health. This year was weird. We moved. I stressed. Got sick. Found out our neighbors are super racist towards us since we are the only white people in the complex and they were very aggressive towards us – got sick. Recently a friend decided to pick a fight with me at 10pm on WhatsApp. (I know. So childish. She’s been cut off.) And wow! My response was out of control. I think that was the icing on the cake this year for me. It’s always good to stay aware of these reactions and try to avoid them or do your best to calm the situation, but sometimes they’re going to hit no matter what you do. I am sure your article will help many people understand what we need to be aware of. Nice visiting your site twice this week, by the way! Take care!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I am sorry to hear about your stress with the neighbours that can be very hard to deal with. And also having an argument with a good friend.
      I do know this time of year just can be very stressful for us. But it is good you know how to pace and keep our boundaries. I have definitely learned that one myself. I also try to avoid the sort of people who stir up drama or just suck the energy from me.

      Like

  2. This is such a detailed informative post about a really important issue. Getting out of fight and flight and activating my parasympathetic rest and digest nervous system has been so crucial for managing my symptoms and mental wellbeing too, I always feel extra nervous and anxious when stressed and neglect relaxing activities.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I believe that I always tend to have the “freeze” response. It is kind of like I don’t know what to do in certain situations. Although, there have been times where the fight response has kicked in. This is a great post, I am going to schedule it on PiP!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I can tell my nervous system is getting activated sometimes…. by no stimulus. Usually it’s my heart rhythm and breathing that tell me… and I can’t say how many times I Don’t notice this.

      Like

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