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How to Help with Anxiety-Fight, Flight or Freeze

This topic could be split into many posts but I am going to try hard to wrap it up in just one. Most of the books and articles and podcasts out there discuss “FIGHT OR FLIGHT” when our bodies come in contact with a stressor. I am going to add one more option to the mix called FREEZE.

As usual there may be affiliate links throughout this post showing things that have helped for us. Although I do get a small commission if you were to purchase something through these links, my focus is sharing what I have learned over the years in dealing with a loved one who deals with mental health issues.

The Anxiety (or Stressor)

I will be using the words’ anxiety and stressor interchangeably in this post. I do like the word stressor more in some instances but I feel either will work just fine. I have read that stressors that used to initiate a fight or flight response were things like lions and other eat or be eaten type dangers. When one was confronted with the lion jumping out of the bush it was fight or flight or be eaten (which is what I refer to as the freeze).

Now this day in age there is rarely the fear of a lion jumping out of the bush but there are still just as real stressors in our everyday lives. Statistics have shown that between the ages of 18-30 one will encounter the most stress or anxiety in one’s life.

There is this concept called the Biological Cascade that causes the hormones in our body to report to their battle stations. The difference is back in the caveman days they could get away from the lions for a while. Today the stressors we deal with are staring us in the face each and every day and we rarely catch a break.

Things like paying the mortgage and credit scores and health insurance and the deductibles even with health insurance and the braces and the medications and the issues at work or the issues of trying to find work. This list could go on and on for a long time. And these are things that we all deal with and most of us don’t have the anxiety disorders on top of all that some have to deal with on a daily basis.

The following examples are ones that my daughter HC has actually experienced and the way she had dealt with them.

The Fight

One of the stressors in HCs life came from a traumatic experience she had leaving work one night. She worked as a server at a local restaurant and always had cash tips. Walking out to her car one night she and a co-worker were approached by an armed man demanding their cash. In this particular situation She choice FIGHT and fortunately it worked out and the outcome was better than it could have been.

The Flight

Trauma has led HC to having complex PTSD that at one point in her life recently had her admitted to a Trauma Center Inpatient Unit. This particular place was a well-known and highly respected Trauma Unit that we had high hopes of a breakthrough. Unfortunately this unit was not what she needed and here she chose FLIGHT.

The Freeze

This is the most common response HC gives in her day to day stressors. This can be anything from the way she has reacted to thunder and lightning storms to the way she responds to an argument between two people in a line at the donuts shop. FREEZE. Something just takes over and she can’t react.

The Issues

One may ask why this is a problem as long as we deal with each issue as it arises? Back up when I mentioned that our bodies do that Biological Cascade, it works great for a short period. But when you are in a constant state of HIGH ALERT like my daughter it can cause all sorts of issues.

I recently researched which health conditions could be tied to chronic stress and the results were staggering.

  • Several types of cancer including breast and prostate
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Alzheimers disease
  • Infectious diseases
  • Pain disorders
  • Heart disease
  • Gut issues

This list could actually be much longer but I stopped researching. I had read enough to know that my next step was to find how to help with the chronic stress and get it back down to an occasional acute stress here and there. We all experience some sort of stress every day but in my daughters case it was in OVERDRIVE and it was affecting her everyday life.

The Stress-Busters

What can we do to help manage the stress in our lives? I am aware that the options are often times specific for each individual personality so I will be dealing mostly with what helps HC is her struggles and a bit how I cope with my stress as well.

Let’s get me out of the way. I never feel that I am in that chronic state of stress but there are times I have my fair share of stress and my best “Go To” things are laughter and meditation.

Laughter is one of those personality things that I feel I was born with perhaps. I can find humor in so many things others can’t see and this really helps me. I also love to watch comedies and comedians whenever I can.

Meditation through MUSE has been a huge help in my life as well. I was not a natural at meditation and I needed help (a lot of help). Between the APP and the other products they have available I have learned the art of meditation (at least good enough for my needs). You can checkout their awesome products HERE.

Now lets get down to HC and her stress-busters. The last post I shared was dealing with panic attacks primarily and I mentioned PANIC AWAY as a resource that is helpful. Breathing exercises are probably the number one stress-buster that HC uses and sees immediate results.

There have also been many times that we have gotten up in the middle of the night when she just lays there stressing and gone for a long walk. Physical activity does help but for her it is usually a last resort. She is more of a hide under my weighted blanket until it goes away kind of kid. Her weighted blanket may rank up there pretty close to the breathing exercises.

Puzzles have helped. We always have some sort of puzzle or craft going so she can just head over to the table and work on something .

Lastly I would say her dogs are high on the list of stress-busters. They totally seem to “get her” and know when she is in OVERDRIVE. They have totally been life-savers on more than one occasion.

Final Thoughts

Fight

Flight

Freeze

I am not sure if one response is any better than another but I do know that this should not be a 24 hours 7 days a week thought process. Our bodies need a break from the stress to heal itself and get ready for the next attack. Try some of our choices or find some of your own stress-busters but do something to ward off that chronic stress and give yourself a fighting chance.

Keep fighting the good fight

Tammy

Tammy C

14 Comments

  1. It really is crazy how stress does cause many health issues. For me, it was obesity. I suffered from panic and anxiety for years and overtime gained a decent amount of weight. I used food as a way of dealing with my emotions. I became obese. When I made a decision to get healthier physically, I knew I had to fix my mental health as well. I began to meditate and walk for good health as well.  Reducing the stress in my life made a huge difference as well. I ended up losing the weight, but also my outlook on life is much better.

    I do believe that stress and anxiety is the root cause of a lot of health issues.

    • Hello Wendy,

      Thank you so much for sharing a part of your story with me.  I am glad you were able to regroup and take back control.  Walking is a great way to incorporate the health benefits of exercise and stress relief.  

  2. I appreciate the a fact that you have put all this effort to create and maintain this site. You have not only been helping your daughter but you have been helping all of us that have a relative suffering too.

    I like the addition you did of the freeze aspect. It’s a common way those suffering from overstress react. Very helpful post. Thanks!

    • Hi Henry,

      Thanks for your very kind post and I am glad that I am able to share what I have learned over time in dealing with these things.  

  3. I’m shocked with all the negative effects this type of stress can produce in a person. From diabetes type 2 to gut issues. All of these are health problems we cannot ignore. And that’s why it’s so important to regulate and avoid all these stressors. I have found your post (and site in general) very helpful. Thank you very much!

    • Hello Paolo,

      I was also shocked when I saw that list of effects that stress can play.  Thank you so much for your comments and checking out my site.

  4. I’ve always wondered which of these three reactions would be my go-to when faced with certain situations. Stress really is a problem these days and I’d like to think that anyone from anywhere in one way or another (unfortunately) has some level of stress in their lives.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the topic!

    • Hello and thank you for your comments.  Yes I agree that stress has become a much more frequent event in our day to day lives.

  5. I can claim I’m good. I can also claim that I know the ways to deal with anxiety. But when the moment anxiety strikes, the moment a big challenge pops up in front of me, I respond in panic. How can I live what I preach? How can I implement what I know?

    You’re right. I find watching comedies a great help especially in this life of mine that’s so stressful. There’s no stressful than having too many debts to pay, too many interests to pay, and the income isn’t that big. Really challenging, and I think I need more comedy videos to get through this.

    • Hello Gomer,

      You are right that it is easy to claim that we are good.  We want to be good and in control of our lives at all times, but the reality is that there is a lot of stress out there we deal with on a day to day basis.  

      You may find help with a great program we found called Panic Away.  Barry McDonagh says “My goal is now to help you live a more fulfilled life ‘beyond anxiety’”.   And it is for normal day to day anxiety as well as the more major types as well.  

      Thanks for your comments.

      Tammy

  6. Interesting topic, had not considered the “Freeze” as a 3rd option, 

    But when I look at my daughter suffering acute panic attack when flying, then its should have been obvious. It’s very real and also scary for both onlooker and the person suffering.  I like how you have introduced various coping mechanisms. I also think by addressing- pre the “freeze” scenario, -what to do if and when it occurs may actually have the added benefit of staving off the “freeze” behaviour. 

    I looked at the Muse, meditation website listed on your blog and liked it very much. 

    Such a misunderstood form of anxiety in fact stress related anxiety is often misunderstood and I liked how you raised the whole subject. 

    I am going to book mark your website as I feel this may offer some other solutions not yet discovered by myself or daughter. 

    Thank you 

    Cordelia

    • Hello Cordelia,

      Thank you for your very kind comments.  I agree that discussing what may occur used to make me think I was putting ideas in her head…but now I realize she has already gone through all those options on her own and it helps her greatly as we talk through each one.  We have developed (over time) a no judgement zone.  She knows that she can share any fears or concerns with me and we will together come up with a solution.  

      One example is a crowed restaurant we were recently seated in the middle.  Immediately I noticed she went on high alert.  Too much going on at once.  We went for a little walk outside and when we came back in we asked if we could be moved to a table on the perimeter.  Once she was away from all the hustle and bustle of sitting in the middle we were able to enjoy a nice dinner.

      Just take one situation at a time.

      Tammy

  7. Hello Tammy,

    This post got me thinking deeply about my own mental health as well. I didn’t even realize I have mostly been reacting to stressors with the freeze syndrome.

    When I come across something that is beyond my capability, I freeze without knowing what to do to solve it. what even makes it worse is that I don’t like discussing much about myself with others.

    So, even if those around me could be of great help, they can’t help me as they have no idea what I’m going through.

    Anyways, I must say, I have learnt a great deal from the tips you shared from HC’s experience. And, I think I will be checking out MUSE in other to incorporate meditations in my daily activities.

    I would also love to try out the breathing exercises from Panic Away. I hope and wish they would have a positive impact on my anxiety as they did with HC.

    Thanks for the useful information and recommendations, you have just saved a sister or friend!  

    • Hello Tohin

      Thank you for your comments.  Did you ever try putting your thoughts on paper?  If you are not comfortable talking about how you feel to others we have found by writing down your feelings in a journal often helps. It has at times helped us recognize a trigger that we were not aware of before.  By going back and reading over a past month one could be aware of triggers that may be avoided or better prepared for in the future. 

      Tammy

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