Fight, Flight, or Freeze

So do not fear, for I am with you;
    do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you;
    I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.                                                            Isaiah 41:10

We are all pretty familiar with the “Fight or Flight” syndrome as a response to acute stress or danger. Our bodies react with stress hormones to prepare us for action to ward off or flee from danger. We also know that even after the initial danger is gone, it takes a while for the chemistry in our bodies to catch up. For individuals who are chronically exposed to such hormonal rushes, the body gets ravaged with the chemicals that are supposed to activate us for action. Such continual flushes of stress cause long-term damage, including blood pressure problems, chronic inflammatory response, and a host of endocrine problems that prematurely can age us. Not good.

There is a third option that we sometimes default to- freeze. Sometimes, we simply do not react at all. It is as if we are frozen in place, unable to move in any direction. We are unable, for just the shortest time, to fight or to flee. We are stunned to inaction, perhaps not willing to believe that such danger even exists. It is almost a denial of what is right before us. We can liken it to being in a minefield. There is simply no safe direction to go in, so we go nowhere.

I find that in retrospect, clients often chastise themselves for the action they took during the crisis. “I should have done this”, or “I wish I had done that”. The truth is, often there is no right answer at the instant of crisis. Soldiers and first responders train all the time to learn a “trained response” so as to increase chances of proper action. Thankfully, they are typically well prepared, “overtrained” as it were so that the right action comes almost automatically.

For those of us who are not specifically trained for regular encounters with traumatic stresses, we may be surprised with the actions that we take in such situations. I trust that such crisis stress responses are rare in your life. In the next few days, I will discuss chronic exposure to stress and the reactions that can happen.

Prayer: Lord, you have given us these remarkable bodily reactions for our safety. We are in awe of how we are made to respond, Amen.

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