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  • Writer's pictureKim Colman

Fight-Flight-Freeze Response

The Fight-Flight-Freeze Response is the bodies automatic, built in system designed to protect us from danger or threat.

What is happening in the brain during a traumatic event?

The retina in the eye sends visual information to the brain stem that there is a threat. If the threat continues, then the Periaqueductal gray area of the brain activates the sympathetic nervous system. The sympathetic nervous system is activated due to the sudden release of hormones. The sympathetic nervous systems stimulate the adrenal glands triggering the release of catecholamines, which includes adrenaline. Heart rate goes up. Blood flow to muscles increases. Blood pressure increases. Pupils dilate. The body has now been primed to respond for the Fight or Flight Response by sending focus to those areas that we would need in order to run or fight. Increased heart beat and breathing provide the energy and oxygen required. Dilated pupils allow us to be more aware of the danger and observant of the surroundings.

But what if it is not safe to Fight or escape? What happens then?

This is when a person may enter into a Freeze Response. At this moment when the person cannot escape or fight back, the Periaqueductal gray area of the brain activates the Parasympathetic nervous system as well. This results in the muscles getting tight and freezing. The persons gaze and breath may freeze as well. Thus, the Freeze Response is activated in the person.

An important thing to note here, is that this is not a cognitive choice. These decisions are made at the level of the nervous system and the brain.

If we can understand how our brain and body reacts in the moment of trauma, this can help us to heal and move forward after the event. So often after the event is over, we look back and don’t understand why we didn’t react or respond differently. As a result, we can carry guilt, shame, anger and various other feelings and emotions around with us, which inhibit us greatly. This is like carrying a backpack full of rocks around all day, which is exhausting.

If you have experienced a trauma and after the event has unfolded, there are always people who will ask why you did certain things and how you should have reacted. In that moment, you were not able to think or respond as you would have in a normal situation. If we can understand how the brain works and responds in traumatic experiences, we can be more understanding and forgiving in how we did or didn’t respond in that given situation.

I specialise in helping you work through trauma and stress in the kindest way. Email me at to set up a Free 15-minute complimentary call to see how I can assist you.

I look forward to chatting with you.

In kindness and support

Kim Colman

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