Fight/Flight/Freeze and Your Emotions

Here’s a quick breakdown of the fight-flight-freeze response. Our autonomic nervous system controls the functions of our bodies that happen automatically – the ones that don’t require conscious direction on our part. The two parts of the autonomic nervous system share this work load. The parasympathetic division handles our life-sustaining processes. These processes are vital, but don’t require our conscious awareness. This includes things like breathing, digestion, etc.

The other part (the sympathetic division) helps keep us out of harm’s way. When the sympathetic division is triggered by a sudden release of hormones, our body kicks into high gear. It prepares us to fight, flee, or freeze. We get a shot of adrenaline, our breathing and heart rates increase, our eyes dilate – you get the idea. All available resources are instantly diverted to support the brain’s highest priority. That priority is responding to dangerous threats in the most effective manner available. By the time our conscious mind receives the message we’re in danger, our body is already way ahead of us. It’s primed, already reacting to the perceived threat. Wondering how this is relevant to emotions? It’s about that mind-body connection I mentioned earlier. We’ll explore this in more detail now.


All things considered, we typically don’t find ourselves in mortal danger very often (thankfully!). Our autonomic nervous system, however, remains faithfully on the job. Over time, the threshold for what triggers the fight/flight/freeze response lowers. This means it may go off when we don’t actually need it. This includes responding to emotional disturbance as if it was a physical threat! As you can imagine: this is not helpful! Being aware your brain can sometimes miss the mark when it comes to threat assessment, however, is helpful! In fact, it’s this very awareness that allows for revisions of the faulty connections sometimes made among overwhelming emotions, thoughts, and your body state. This begs the question, what can we do about it?

Brandee Smith