The automatic response of flight-fight-freeze helps one cope with danger. Stress triggers this response of fight-flight-freeze. It is automatic to everyone. For instance, you may yell at your parents when they force you to take your driving test yet you are not ready (fight). You may opt to leave a club or avoid going in the first place because you do not feel comfortable around the people who invited you or unfamiliar people (flight), or you may just go blank in the instance that the lecturer asks you to answer a question (freeze). This is the way the body gets prepared to defend you in times of distress.
As humans, we do not come with a manual of instruction. I believe if we did we would get through life with more joy and less pain and do a better in getting through it. Over time, human behavior has evolved. What worked many years ago for humans may, therefore, be as be helpful as at today. Our behavior, however, does not entirely forget the evolutionary pedigree despite the changing times.
The acute stress response is also known as the flight or fight response is one of the driving forces of some of the human behaviors ( Bracha, 2004). It is the psychological term which describes how someone acts when subjected to stress. The understanding of the flight or fight response leads to a better understanding of our own behavior when we fell stressed out. It is characterized by the body feeling ambience of stress- which includes faster breathing and an increased heartbeat rate. One feels pressure in their chest as if something may be pressing down on it. The sense of a heightened sensory - such as sounds and sights around them may also occur(Jansen et al. 1995). As all this occur, the body readies itself to either fight or fight as the environment poses a perceived threat to it.
The sympathetic nervous system is responsible for the reading of the body for one of either reaction (Hertz et al., 1982). The adrenal glands are stimulated which therefore trigger the adrenaline and noradrenaline release. This is responsible for the increased heart rate, rate of breathing and the blood pressure. When the removal of the threat occurs- either by defeating it through the action of fighting or by running away from it- the sympathetic nervous system of the body can take up to an hour to regain its normal state.
In the prehistoric times, the rationale of this reaction was evident. An individual may have found themselves in a situation which required a quick response. The choice had to be there and then. The choice of time was limited. In the case that a lot of time had been spent thinking through it, they may have become the lion's dinner or any other animal whatsoever. One could think more quickly and react more effectively to stay alive. It was basic for survival. One had to take thinking out of the equation to stay alive.
As of the time today, our bodies can react even to perceived threats. They do not have to be real in the real sense, but the fact that we have them in mind puts us on guard. The threats have also become less apparent, with some not even real in the first place. Once imagined, they become so real to a person that they necessitate an action to stop them from harming them. Any phobia can trigger the flight or fight response. An overwhelming fear of height will, therefore, be felt by persons who are afraid of the height. These persons will experience an increase in their heartbeat and the respiration rate while in uncomfortable heights for them. The presence of a crowd, while one is presenting a piece of work, would also cause similar reactions to a sample of the same people, even though no real threat is posed on them.
The recognition of one's response to a stressor to a perception or actual threat helps one react in accordance with the situation. The practice of meditation and relaxation exercises helps one get through this anxious situation gradually and remarkably. Many are familiar with the fight-flight response although less is known about the fight-flight-freeze response ( Bracha et al., 2004). Many are times when one is confronted with a situation which overwhelms your abilities to cope that it leaves you paralyzed due to fear. The freeze response is whereby one perceives a situation to be disabling. This is a threat that one has concluded in a matter of seconds or milliseconds that they can neither defeat the threat nor run away from it to gain safety. Surprisingly, this paralyzing response may be as adaptive in the circumstance as fighting the threat or fleeing from the said enemy.
Realistically, think of a situation whereby there is no way to escape from it. You neither have the strength assistance of the hormones to aggressively respond to the hostile force nor the speed driven from anxiety to free oneself from such a position. Here, you feel helpless and hopeless. You remain defenceless. You cannot run or fight.
In most cases, there is no one to rescue you. For instance, take a person who is attacked by a fierce dog which has dug its teeth in their neck, and they are at its mercy in totality. Or a younger child who finds themselves in captivation of a bully who has pinned them to the ground with their entire strength. Or a sexual predator that has their victim entirely overpowered and the victim has no control of their own body. What can these helpless persons do?
In such situations of alarm, one experiences panic, dread, horror and nervousness. Under such circumstances, numbing out or freezing up is about the best and only thing one can do. In these instances, one secretes chemicals such as endorphins which act as analgesics, so that the pain caused by the injury either physically or mentally is experienced with much less force. Additionally, the person or animal with is aggressive towards you might just lose their interest in continuous attacks if one does not keep on fighting it. Thereby, if you cannot make the attacker disappear, you are much safer blocking out that which you consider too much to handle.
The word freeze is being added to the name flight or fight by stress experts around the entire world (Schmidt et al., 2008). They argue that at times one needs to freeze like a deer which in the headlights during traumatic situations. The idea of fight or flight is based on survival. Hope is the basis on it. We make it active when we consider having a chance to outrun or defeat the ones attacking us. We however active the freeze response when we have no hope of survival.
The flight-fight response could get considered as a device for conserving energy. Our ancient ancestors utilized it allowing them to go through their daily routines. They preserved a significant amount of energy for energy for emergency cases. They could run faster than they had ever in their entire life or fight as hard as they could to survive. The freeze response has, however, a different working pattern. When we are overwhelmed, and we consider the attacker more powerful; with no hope of survival, we freeze.
Bracha, H. S. (2004). Freeze, flight, fight, fright, faint: Adaptationist perspectives on the acute stress response spectrum. CNS Spectrums, 9(9), 679-685.
Bracha, H. S., Ralston, T. C., Matsukawa, J. M., Williams, A. E., & Bracha, A. S. (2004). Does "fight or flight" need updating?. Psychosomatics, 45(5), 448-449.
Hertz, P. E., Huey, R. B., & Nevo, E. (1982). Fight versus flight: body temperature influences defensive resp
Jansen, A. S., Van Nguyen, X., Karpitskiy, V., Mettenle iter, T. C., & Loewy, A. D. (1995). Central command neurons of the sympathetic nervous system: basis of the fight-or-flight response. Science, 270(5236), 644-646
Schmidt, N. B., Richey, J. A., Zvolensky, M. J., & Maner, J. K. (2008). Exploring human freeze responses to a threat stressor. Journal of behavior therapy and experimental psychiatry, 39(3), 292-304.
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