Fight, Flight, Freeze…or Face?

Fight, flight, or freeze. Have you ever heard of that before?  If not, that’s okay because knowledge is power, right?  All of these responses are your body’s natural reactions to danger.  These responses are incredibly powerful and often times very helpful.  To name a few examples, consider if you were to jump out of the way of an oncoming vehicle, encounter a growling dog while walking down the street, or even grip the steering wheel because you notice a vehicle coming close to you on the interstate.  When a person is exposed to a dangerous situation or a physical threat, the entire body undergoes several changes.  Sometimes these changes include an increased heart rate, blood pressure, and/or respiratory rate.  Other times, a person’s heart rate may slow down, along with their breath.  But what if I told you these reactions can occur even if the threat doesn’t really exist?  It’s true and I’m sure if you dig deep enough, you’ll find out that even you, yes you, have these rapid-fire, automatic, and total body responses to nonexistent threats.

No, I’m not a mind reader, but I know what you’re thinking, so let’s go through some of those thoughts really quick—

  • “Yeah, I know someone that gets like that without an actual threat but that’s not me.  I’m not that person.”
  • “I’m in total control of my actions, so no, you have no idea what you’re talking about.”
  • “How dare you say that when you don’t even know me?”

Before you write me off, just hear me out.  What do you have to lose?  Either you’ll laugh at me and show all of your friends how illogical you think this is, or you’ll be receptive and maybe the paragraphs that follow will empower you to change your life. 

What are you afraid of?  Think about that for a minute.  Either you thought of a couple of fears or maybe you couldn’t come up with any on the spot.  What about public speaking?  That’s a pretty common one.  What about pitching ideas in a meeting?  What about asking for a raise?  What about learning something new?  These are all examples of common fears that people have.  You may be wondering what this has to do with fight, flight, or freeze.  Picture this—you are about to give a presentation to about 15 people on a virtual platform.  Your eyes are darting back and forth between the clock and the presentation you’ve rehearsed a hundred times.  Your heart rate increases, your breath is shallow, and you only have about 30 seconds until showtime.  As you start your introduction, your voice is weak, your hands are clammy, and you’re trembling.  See where I’m going with this?  Your body is responding in the same manner as it would if you were up against a physical threat, but you weren’t.  So what happened?  A nonexistent threat is what happened.  Sure, you could make the argument that it was your body’s response to a “psychological threat.”  This is, however, where I must disagree.

By referring to what’s happening in your mind as “your body’s response to a psychological threat”, you are teetering on the edge of having a “victim mentality”, even if it’s only for a moment.  You have essentially removed your sense of responsibility and ownership.  You cannot be blamed for that.  You cannot be blamed for being unaware of what you’re doing to yourself, that is, until now.  Now you are aware and it’s up to you.  Maybe you didn’t use the same terminology, maybe you didn’t think of it that way, or perhaps, you didn’t think about it at all but nonetheless, the principle is the same.  It was never a threat at all; it was a challenge.  You felt fear because you were presented with a challenge. 

The difference between your body’s response to danger or a physical threat and your body’s response to a nonexistent threat, or challenge, lies within what you can and cannot control.  Yes, you can reduce your body’s response to danger or a physical threat, but it varies from scenario to scenario and it surely can’t be eliminated.  Your mind on the other hand?  You have control over that; maybe you don’t think you do, but I promise, you do.

I really hate to throw a cliché in here but I feel like I need to.  Mind over matter.  I really want you to think about something for a second.  If you constantly think negative thoughts, so much in fact, that you become depressed, why can’t the opposite be true?  If you decide in your mind that you aren’t afraid, then you have already overcome 90% of the battle.  The remaining 10% is just the action piece. 

So, I’ll ask you again, what are you afraid of?  Are you fighting because you think you’re right and that someone else is wrong?  Are you taking flight by switching the topic?  Are you freezing because you are scared and aren’t saying anything at all?

You can do anything.  You can learn anything.  You can be anything.  What you cannot do, is be afraid.  Fear will stunt your growth and if that happens, it won’t be anyone’s fault except your own.

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