Fight-flight-freeze: Is anxiety adaptive?

Anxiety is part of the body system activated during a dangerous event, a way our body quickly keeps us safe. Not only is anxiety normal and adaptive, it is, also, our body's natural alarm system. This system triggers our body to move out of the way and act quickly...like when a car runs the red light just as you are stepping into the crosswalk.

Is Anxiety Adaptive?

Anxiety is part of the body system activated during a dangerous event, a way our body quickly keeps us safe. Not only is anxiety normal and adaptive, it is, also, our body’s natural alarm system. This system triggers our body to move out of the way and act quickly…like when a car runs the red light just as you are stepping into the crosswalk. Sometimes this system becomes triggered and over-reactive when no threat exists and symptoms of anxiety interfere with daily living.  We can find ourselves overwhelmed with anxiety symptoms and stuck in the over-reactive fight-flight-freeze defense system.

Flight-Fight-Freeze

AnxietyBC website describes fight-flight-frees as the body’s automatic, built-in system designed to protect us from threat or danger. The alarm system activates under times of real danger, and it can, also, be activated when the body or brain “perceives” that you are in danger. In this way, the system can be over protective activating when there is no imminent threat of danger. Fight response kicks in to fight against an attack, the flight response is the bodies response to run away when under attack and we can enter into freeze when the threat is so great, we cannot move or speak or fend off the threat.

Anxiety can be a debilitating physiological experience from heart pounding, sweat drenching coldness to complete cognitive shutdown. Some describe their anxiety as just below the surface, but, always present, like a niggling fear ready to spring forward at any point. Anxiety is commonly expressed as worry about future events or rumination over past events. No two people experience anxiety in the same way. But there is hope for anxiety sufferers.

Coping

You can learn to cope with anxiety symptoms? We look at the affect of anxiety in 3 ways: how we feel (physical sensations), how we think (worry, rumination, self-criticism), and what we do (avoid public speaking, going outside, trying new activities). One of the first steps in learning to cope with anxiety is noticing your experience. A big road block to overcome is the negative belief that “I shouldn’t feel this way,” or the shame felt when someone says,: “Oh, that’s silly, I don’t know why you would be worried about that…”.

First of all, acknowledge where anxiety shows up for you. Give yourself permission to have these thoughts or feelings. Thank this natural body system and begin learning to manage the anxiety, rather than be managed by the anxiety. One antidote for anxiety is learning to be present and some individual’s benefit from practicing daily mindfulness. Others discover some of their anxiety relates to unresolved past traumatic events or relationship stress.  Personal counselling work can help anxious individuals make sense of how past events, negatively, influence present circumstances.

Resources

There are many online resources and books dealing with anxiety and the commonly associated disorders of anxiety. Anxiety BC lists 9 related disorders. You can learn more about the related anxiety disorders from this online resource: www.anxietybc.com.

Tracey Dahl
Tracey Dahl
Registered clinical counselor (RCC) at Shoreline Counselling (www.shorelinecounselling.com).