2.3 When the Brain Experiences Stress: Fight – Flight – Freeze
As afore-mentioned, the fight-flight-freeze response is your body’s natural reaction to danger. It’s a type of stress response that helps you react to perceived threats. This response is triggered by psychological fear that has been “learnt”. Meaning, you’ve associated a situation or a stimulus with negative experiences. This psychological response is initiated when you’re first exposed to the situation and develops over time.
Specifically, fight-or-flight is an active defence response where you fight or flee the potentially dangerous environment. On the other hand, freezing is a further preparation to protect yourself by either fighting or running. It involves similar physiological changes, but instead, you stay completely still and get ready for the next move.
When you’re faced with a perceived threat, your survival mode heightens. That’s because it already considers the situation to be life threatening, and your body automatically reacts with the fight-flight-freeze response to keep you safe (Nunez, 2020).
Here are a few physiological responses that are triggered in the fight-or-flight mechanism:
- Blood- Blood thickens, which increases clotting factors. This prepares your body for injury.
- Hands and feet- As blood flow increases to your major muscles, your hands and feet might get cold.
- Ears- Your ears “perk up” and your hearing becomes sharper.
- Breathe faster- Your breathing speeds up to deliver more oxygen to your blood. This is done to get us ready to fight or run
- Feel your heart race- Your heart beats faster to bring oxygen to your major muscles.
- Feel Dizzy- The increase of oxygen in the blood makes us dizzy if we don’t use it
- Eyes- Your peripheral vision increases so you can notice your surroundings. Your pupils dilate and let in more light, which helps you see better
- Sweating- Your skin might produce more sweat or get cold. You may look pale or have goose bumps.
- Tense muscles- To get ready to run or fight, your muscles will tense
- Pain perception- Fight-or-flight temporarily reduces your perception of pain
(Beacon House, 2017)
Reflective questions for the reader:
- Have you ever experienced the fight-or-flight mechanism?
- What kind of situations do you perceive to be threatening for you?
- Do you think you are more of a “fight” or “flight” person?