A Closer Look At Freeze The Third Stress Response
While fight-or-flight was conceptualized as a way humans respond to certain stressful stimuli in the 1920s, the additional and perhaps less noted third response, freeze, was not widely considered until around 50 years later, and still had not been studied as widely as a response. Freezing as a response to a threat might seem effective, a sort of playing dead in the face of danger however, in humans freezing manifests as an inability to communicate, react, or take any action of self-preservation or defense. Where does someone develop this tendency, how does it affect the ability to cope with stress, and how can it be avoided when it harms the mental state?
Freezing in Early Development
The freeze response is more common for those that experience a large amount of fear in response to certain stressors. As children, the ability to protect or defend oneself is limited and mostly reliant upon the caregiver. Therefore if one felt routinely unsafe or unprotected by their parent or guardian, they could have a tendency toward this response as adults. When a child isnt able to fight or run from perceived danger, it incites a panic response, making one numb or immobile in the face of the stressor.
Recognizing the Response
Fight Tightened jaw or fists, clenched teeth, a desire to strike out physically such as kicking or punching, glaring, raised voice, feelings of nausea or knots in the stomach, thoughts that are homicidal or suicidal in nature, anger, and rage.
Should You See A Doctor
Although hyperventilation syndrome is not life-threatening, it is never a bad idea to see your doctor if air hunger is severe, causing distress, persistent, or if breathing techniques fail to help.
Whats more, hyperventilation syndrome is very often the result of long-lasting anxiety and/or stress. Of course, breathing techniques do nothing to address these underlying issues.
If you have reason to believe you may be living with an anxiety disorder, you should speak to your doctor. Although there are different types of anxiety disorders and each person will have different experiences, some of the most common symptoms include:
- Difficulty concentrating
What Is Your Fear Response
The human brain responds identically to both real and unreal danger. This is called the “fight or flight” response, and it causes a surge of adrenaline to assist with either fighting or fleeing. Your heart rate and blood pressure increase, and your senses become hyper-alert. But it is also up to your brain to determine whether the trigger is real, the feeling is fear, and the need to fight or flee is also real or the trigger is unreal, like a movie, fantasy, or dream, and the feeling is anxiety, requiring no action.
In other words, anxiety and fear produce virtually identical physiologic responses. The difficulty is that your mind must make sense of the data. Over time, the mind learns how to distinguish between reality and unreality. However, it is never able to do this perfectly, because frightening experiences, whether real or imagined, automatically trigger the flight or fight response.
An anxiety disorder results when the flight or fight response becomes triggered too easily and too frequently. Usually, this occurs after many events of any kind that are perceived as threatening from early childhood to the present or fewer extremely intense events that have left a strong impression of danger on the individual. As a result, the brain has learned to perceive the world as more dangerous than it actually is. In the most serious anxiety disorder, panic disorder, the individual’s physiologic response is genuine terror.
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Causes And Risk Factors
Anxiety is a normal response to stress or a dangerous situation and its often referred to as the fight or flight response. Its also the most prevalent mental health condition. Anxiety becomes problematic when it is constant or in reaction to inappropriate circumstances, which over time can negatively affect your day-to-day life. In fact, there are a number of anxiety disorders, including generalized anxiety disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, social anxiety disorder and panic disorder.
Causes of anxiety include:
- inability to socialize
Symptoms Related To Butterflies In The Stomach
2. Take care of yourself and declutter your surroundings.
The importance of a good night’s sleep can’t be overstated. Taking care of your body is the first step to taking care of your mind. This will help alleviate anxious thoughts and feelings in your stomach. Make sure you’re drinking enough water, getting enough sleep, eating a healthy diet, and exercising regularly. Exercise releases endorphins which promote feelings of happiness. While it may be difficult to completely change your lifestyle overnight, taking small steps to be more mindful of the way you treat yourself every day will pay off in the long run.
3. Challenge your negative thoughts.
Anxiety often stems from worrying about something in the future, and negative thoughts can often spiral into even more negative thoughts. This can result in keeping you in a perpetual state of anxiety. When you begin to feel anxiety, stop and ask yourself what’s making you feel that way. Are you worried about the exam you need to take next week? The date you’re going on tomorrow night? An important conversation you need to have with someone?
4. Accept uncertainty.
5. Visualize positive outcomes and plan for the day ahead.
6. Surround yourself with positivity.
7. Seek help.
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A New Take On The Autonomic Nervous System
As previously mentioned, more recent discoveries are finding that your ANS is a bit more complex than we once believed. While parasympathetic mode continues to be the primary state when you feel safe and calm, there is much more to the story when stress enters the scene.
Instead of a fight or flight response that’s tied to sympathetic mode, researchers are finding that there is an additional response, called “freeze or fold,” that acts as a secondary adaptation to situations that our subconscious deems dangerous. This offers us a deeper understanding of how trauma may affect the responses of the autonomic nervous system, and therefore our actions and behaviors when we feel unsafe.
When the “freeze or fold” response is activated, you’re no longer operating solely from the sympathetic branch but engaging something called dorsal vagal activation.
The Consequences Of Chronic Stress
Long-term, frequent activation of the fight or flight response is often synonymous with a health phenomenon called chronic stress.
Chronic stress occurs when, your stress system stays activated over a long period of time The constant rush of stress hormones can put a lot of wear and tear on your body, causing it to age more quickly and making it more prone to illness.
Fortunately, there are ways to handle chronic stress or the false perception that non-dangerous situations warrant the fight or flight response.
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What Causes Test Anxiety
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, test anxiety is rooted in the following causes:
- Fear of failure: Also called atychiphobia, fear of failure can negatively affect our performance. Students who tie their feeling of self-worth to the results of a test are more likely to experience this fear.
- Lack of preparation: Knowing you did not study thoroughly enough for a test can add to your feelings of anxiety and dread.
- Poor testing history: If you have performed poorly on other exams or have bad memories of testing situations, you may find yourself in a cycle of negative thoughts that can influence your results on future exams.
Take An Incremental Approach To Overcoming Social Anxiety
Keep in mind that working through a significant social anxiety habit is going to take time.
There are no quick fixes or silver bullets, tempting as that possibility is.
Unfortunately, many people start strong in their journey to overcome social anxiety only to have a setback or two, get discouraged, and then give up.
There are a couple reasons why this happens:
The solution to both of these issues, I think, is to foster an incremental attitude and approach to overcoming your social anxiety.
For example, after reading this guide, homely there are at least a handful of good ideas and strategies you want to implement in order to overcome your social anxiety.
Dont try to do them all at once!
Instead, pick one and focus on that until you start to see some progress and it feels more automatic for you. Only then move on to implementing another.
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Know That You Are Safe
When our fight or flight response is activated, it can feel really scary. Therefore it is really important to understand the physiology behind each physical symptom . This will remove some of the fear and the catastrophic misinterpretation of physical feelings that can occur, such as, my chest is tight I am having a heart attack, my thoughts wont stop, I must be going mad, I feel dizzy, I am going to faint. When anxiety causes your stomach to feel weird or your chest to feel tight, say to yourself :
I am medically safe. This is my body preparing to run or fight. That is all.
At first, you might believe this for a second but then the what if feeling might creep back in. Thats ok. You just need to remind yourself you are safe over and over, each time the feelings start to pop up. Over time the head-heart shift will occur. This means that it will go from something you can know in your head when calm, to something you believe in your heart at any time, even when stressed.
Symptoms Of The Fight Or Flight System
It may be misleading to call the fight or flight effects “symptoms” since the issue is not a disease, but rather a healthy way to stay safe from danger. The following are some of the effects that can be directly attributed to the activation of this response, and why they occur:
These are all immediate effects of the fight or flight response and as you now know, the fight or flight response was designed to help with short-term dangerous situations. The fact that it is not intended to be activated long term is why there are some symptoms of anxiety that do not show up on the list of fight or flight reactions. For example, anxiety often causes muscle tension. This is not due to the direct actions of the fight or flight response, but the stress that the response puts on your body if maintained long term.
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What Causes Social Anxiety
Like a lot of important questions in life, What causes social anxiety? is a more complicated question than wed like.
For one thing, different forms of social anxiety are likely to have different causes.
- If you struggle with social anxiety at workparticularly with imposter syndrome and feeling like other people are about to discover how big a fraud you really arethat may be caused primarily by perfectionism and a mental habit of self-criticism and comparing yourself to others.
- On the other hand, if your social anxiety tends to crop up in the context of romantic relationships and having a hard time being emotionally vulnerable, that might stem from your experiences as a child seeing how poorly one of your parents was treated when they expressed emotion in the context of a relationship.
I bring this up because its unwise to hang onto the idea that theres one cause of social anxiety. And that if you just figure that out, youll be able to crack the code and end your struggle with it.
More than likely your social anxiety has very different causes than your mothers social anxiety, which has different causes than your bosss social anxiety.
Of course, that doesnt mean there arent common factors in what causes social anxiety that many people share. There are! But the point is theres no way to shortcut the hard work of identifying the unique causes of your social anxiety.
More Physical Symptoms Of Fight Or Flight
Other reactions may occur when your fight or flight system is active as well. What is a physiological response? Basically a physical reaction to the situation. What are some physiological responses, your SNS can trigger:
Make your pupils dilate
Lets look at another example.
Example of the Parasympathetic Nervous System at Work
Say youve just returned home from a long day at work, during which you had to give a big presentation. It went great. You got an amazing review. Now its over, youre home, and that’s when the activation of the parasympathetic nervous system happens.
Its easy to see that your PNS should be active. You are resting and digesting, conserving and storing energy. There are no threats, and you are in a state of what Walter Bradford Cannon called homeostasis in his book The Wisdom of the Body, published in 1930. Homeostasis3 is the state of equilibrium necessary for survival.
When homeostasis is going on internally in your body, those smooth muscles, cardiac muscles, and glands are still being activated. But remember that they are not being controlled by the fight or flight system anymore. Instead, theyre being managed by the rest and digest system .
Because of this, resting and digesting are priorities:
Smooth muscles move more blood to the digestive system and away from skeletal muscles.
Cardiac muscles calm down, allowing the heart to pump more slowly and less hard.
Sweat glands dont overwork to produce more sweat.
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How To Fight Anxiety: Tips And Tricks
Medically Reviewed By: Wendy Boring-Bray, DBH, LPC
Many people experience some sort of anxiety at some point in their lives, whether its having panic attacks or being stuck in a loop of overthinking. In fact, anxiety is the most common mental illness in the United States, affecting over 40 million adults in the country, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. Although it can feel incredibly isolating, if you suffer from anxiety or an anxiety disorder, you are not alone. You likely know someone else with a diagnosed anxiety disorder, even if they dont talk about it. But, knowing this likely wont stop your feelings of anxiety, which can affect your mental health.
The positive result of anxiety being so common is that it has been heavily researched. With that being said, there are many proven coping methods for people with anxiety. Although not every coping method will work for all people with anxiety, they can certainly be helpful, especially for those who may be living with panic attacks on a regular basis. Be sure to try out the different methods listed below and see what works best for you for the betterment of your mental health. But first, its important to understand what anxiety is so you can recognize it.
What is Anxiety?
How to Fight Generalized Anxiety
Practicing Deep Breathing Exercises
Get Enough Sleep
Minimize Caffeine Intake
Never Skip Meals
Seek the Help of a Counselor
Consider Taking Anxiety Medications
How to Fight Anxiety Attacks