NEW! Teacher Training Program ✨ Get certified in somatic exercises

Fight, Flight, Freeze, & Fawn Response: What's The Difference?

Posted by Kelsey Juntwait on

The human body responds to stress in four basic ways: fight, flight, freeze, and fawn. Each response is a way of reacting to perceived danger with the ultimate goal of reducing or avoiding harm and returning to a state of relaxation. 

Take the quiz to find out if you're in fight, flight, freeze, or fawn response!

What is a fight response?

A fight response is one of the three basic types of responses to stress – the other two being flight and freeze response. It primarily refers to the aggressive stance taken by an individual against a perceived threat or challenge. In this response, the body is flooded with adrenaline and cortisol, which increases heart rate, blood pressure, and oxygen levels. The increase in these stress hormones causes the body to go into a state of hyper-arousal, preparing the individual for action. The person may feel a surge of energy or power, which enables them to confront the threat physically or verbally. Additionally, this response can manifest as defiance or stubbornness in the face of adversity, with the individual refusing to back down. However, while a fight response can help individuals defend themselves in actual physical danger, it can also cause conflict and aggression in non-threatening situations.

What is a flight response?

The flight response is a term used to describe the physiological and behavioral changes that occur in response to a perceived threat or danger. It is one of the two primary responses to stress, the other being the fight response. In the flight response, the body prepares itself for escape by increasing heart rate, breathing rate, and blood pressure, and dilating the pupils to improve visual acuity. Meanwhile, the brain releases hormones like adrenaline and cortisol, which increase physical energy and focus. These changes allow the individual to flee from danger quickly and efficiently, and can save their life in truly dangerous situations. However, the flight response can also be triggered by non-life-threatening situations, such as public speaking or job interviews, leading to unnecessary stress and anxiety. It is important to be aware of your own stress responses, so you can manage them appropriately and prevent negative impacts on your health and well-being.

What is a freeze response?

The freeze response, also known as tonic immobility, is a common response to stress or danger in both animals and humans. It is a type of physical reaction that involves the body becoming immobilized or “stuck” in response to a perceived threat. This response can range from mild to severe, with some individuals experiencing a temporary inability to move, speak or even think clearly. The freeze response is thought to be an evolutionary adaptation that helps animals and humans to blend into their surroundings and avoid being detected by predators. While this response may be helpful in some situations, it can also be detrimental in others, such as during social interactions, when it can lead to feelings of isolation and rejection. It is important for individuals to recognize when they are experiencing a freeze response and take steps to manage their stress levels and anxiety in order to prevent it from having a negative impact on their mental and emotional wellbeing.

What is a fawn response?

A fawn response is a survival mechanism that occurs when an individual perceives a threat or confrontation. The response is characterized by attempting to appease or flatter the person causing the stress. A fawn response is often used when an individual feels powerless or unable to physically fight back against the perceived threat, so they attempt to placate or please the other person. This behavior can be widely observed in social situations, especially those that involve power imbalances. It can also be seen in relationships where a person may feel the need to always agree or comply with their partner to avoid confrontation. Although this response can be helpful in certain situations, it can also lead to a lack of assertiveness and self-esteem issues. It is important to recognize and address the root cause of the fawn response, so individuals can learn healthier coping mechanisms and assert themselves in situations that call for it.

How to get your body out of fight, flight, freeze, or fawn response.

Somatic exercises are movements that can help you get out of any of these states. These types of exercises focus on deep breathing, gentle stretches, and body-awareness techniques to release tension and stress. Somatic exercises can help individuals become aware of the physical sensations they are experiencing and learn to respond in a way that is more calming and centered. By incorporating slow, intentional movements, somatic exercises have been shown to mitigate the effects of the sympathetic nervous system response to stressors. Additionally, these types of exercises can improve posture, range of motion, and flexibility. Overall, somatic exercises are an effective technique for individuals who are seeking to regulate their nervous system and find a sense of calm in the face of stress or anxiety.