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Fight-flight-freeze: The body's natural response to stress
Resources: Wellbeing, Mental Health, For Myself
The fight-flight-freeze response - Learn about your body's natural response to stress and when to look for help.
Fight-flight-freeze: The body's natural response to stress

Fight, flight or freeze is our body’s stress response. It is a natural reaction when we perceive danger and need to protect ourselves. It can be activated by a life threatening event, such as being chased by a lion, or in stressful situations like meeting new people or exam season. Your body gets ready to fight the threat, fly (run) from it, or freeze and stay in place. 

This response isn’t a conscious decision – it’s an automatic reaction. Instantly, your body undergoes hormonal and physiological changes, so you can act quickly to keep yourself safe. 

The sympathetic nervous system is stimulated, and your body releases adrenaline and cortisol, the stress hormone. This puts your body in a state where it is ready to fight or flee from a threat. 

Numerous physiological changes can occur, including an increase in heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing rate. It also triggers changes in the stomach and digestive tract, causing a loss of appetite. Energy is moved away from the digestive system to instead prioritise functions we need for immediate survival. Our muscles are affected. We tense up to protect against injury or pain.

Sometimes, the fight-flight-freeze response can become overactive and impact our physical and mental health. This happens when nonthreatening situations trigger the reaction. This may be due to trauma and/or an anxiety disorder. 

Regular exercise, relaxation techniques and social support can lower our stress response. If the fight or flight response persists in being overactive, talk to someone you trust, put time into self-care, and remember that professional support is available.