There are three main stress reactions to excess anxiety and fear – Fight or Flight are the ones most people recognise – but there is also Freeze. You can see each survival mode very clearly acted out in nature and in humans.
So, in this blog, we’re going to ask ‘What’s your survival mode style?’
When I am anxious, stressed, unhappy, uneasy, or just plain confused – my first instinct is to run. Not really run, you understand, I haven’t done that since I was about 18! But I feel an overwhelming need to remove myself from the situation, from the people, from the feelings, from the scrutiny.
In acute situations, adrenaline floods my body preparing me to make a run for it which (when I can’t!) creates a whole host of other symptoms from a racing heart, to tunnel vision, to uncomfortable tingling all over my body, to stomach issues.
Simply put, that adrenaline needs to be discharged and when it isn’t, it goes on a trouble-making rampage around my body!
In less extreme situations, whenever I hit a bump in the road, I would fantasise about moving house, moving to a different city, leaving and starting afresh – running away.
It was my ‘go-to’ move whenever things got difficult.
But knowing and understanding this has opened my eyes to a whole new way of dealing with those bumps in the road! And, knowing your survival mode style could help you to do the same.
Anger or ‘Fight’ is often misunderstood.
It is a stress response like any other and comes about when someone feels in pain, out of touch, anxious, or stressed – the same as the other survival mode reactions.
When faced with certain dangers we are hard-wired to respond with aggression or ‘Fight’ – it would have been a necessary survival tactic for our ancestors!
But as with all primitive survival mode responses to perceived threat (anxiety), when it is disproportionate, unhelpful, inappropriate, or out of control, it becomes a problem.
The big difference with ‘Fight’ or anger is it tends to be directed outwards at others rather than inwards (Freeze) or away (Flight), and as such has the potential to be more hurtful and/or damaging.
Many people feel shame if this is their go-to coping style. We are made to feel we should be able to control our anger and are somehow lacking if we can’t.
Now, I’m absolutely not saying we can all run around being abusive and/or aggressive to whomever we please, but I am saying that a little understanding goes a long way.
Ask yourself these questions:
1. Do I tend to regret the things I say once the tension/situation has passed?
2. Is my first response to criticism to go on the attack?
3. Do I snap at people when I’m busy or under pressure?
4. Do I often feel anger is my only choice and don’t look for alternative ways to deal with situations?
5. Do I have a tendency to blame others?
If you answered yes to three or more of these questions, it is likely your survival mode style is ‘Fight’.
That used to be my mantra!
Rather than the more positive acronym for FEAR –
Face. Everything. And. Rise.
I’ve talked about my own personal experience with the ‘Flight’ response, but it can manifest itself in other ways.
For example, many of the women I speak to, mention fidgeting and an inability to ‘settle’ – that could be something as inconsequential as tapping a foot when watching a film or as massively life-affecting as being unable to settle in a job or a city for any length of time.
Inability to sleep or relax as your body is flooded with adrenaline which has nowhere to go.
Ask yourself these questions:
1. When I’m under stress do I look around, figuring out an ‘exit-strategy’?
2. Do I daydream about ‘leaving it all behind’ and starting again somewhere new?
3. When faced with anxiety, do I feel trapped with loads of energy that has nowhere to go?
4. Do I avoid facing up to things or ‘talking it out’ when I’m stressed?
5. Am I prone to self-sabotage?
If you answered yes to three or more of these questions, it is likely your survival mode style is ‘Flight’.
‘Freeze’ is the lesser-known of the three responses, but is just as ‘powerful’.
You see the ‘Freeze’ survival mode response everywhere in nature – deer in headlights, anyone? Some species of goat freeze so completely when scared or threatened it takes hours for their muscles to return to normal!
Yet, it was less talked about in humans until relatively recently.
The ‘Freeze’ response represents an almost complete disengagement from the situation. Being so overwhelmed by the information, you simply can’t make a decision or take any action.
Unlike ‘Fight’ and ‘Flight’ which are action (or at least the desire to take action) based, Freeze is all about shutting down.
I remember when my parents died, I just wanted to sleep. To switch off and not think about anything. Nobody could understand how I could just switch off and sleep during such a stressful event. Now I know it was a Freeze response.
Ask yourself these questions:
1. When faced with stress do I leave the decision making up to others?
2. Do I make excuses for my own and others’ behaviour when I feel criticised?
3. Do I usually go along with the crowd rather than take a stand if it would cause even a small amount of tension?
4. When faced with anxiety, do I go numb or get brain fog?
5. Do I find myself procrastinating when faced with something stressful?
If you answered yes to three or more of these questions, it is likely your survival mode style is ‘Freeze’.
It is perfectly possible to react in different ways in different situations and you almost certainly will. But, what we’re looking at here is a ‘most of the time preference’ kind of thing.
What do you do most of the time?
I’m sure despite the answers you give, you know deep down inside which survival mode style feels most like you.
Regardless of your ‘survival mode style’, anxiety is still the root cause – unless you really are in danger, of course… so, the key is to deal with the anxiety and those strategies, tactics, and exercises remain the same regardless of your ‘natural’ survival mode style. Check out this blog for my top actionable tips.
But, once you know your style and how you are most likely to react, you are in control of how you respond – you always have a choice.
The simplest way to ‘make a different choice’ is to recognise what is happening… that this is anxiety… it’s perfectly natural and OK to want to react in this way, but now you have all the information – it is not inevitable.
You can step back, accept, allow, and face what is happening in the knowledge you are safe and in control. Remember, the subconscious mind learns by experience and if you can change how you react and prove to your primitive mind you are still ok, it will take notice and over time your reactions will be different.
I’d love to hear about your survival mode style and how knowing this information can help you make different choices, please drop me a line and let’s connect. Or jump into our Facebook Group and join the conversation there.
Working together, we can transform your relationship with anxiety and help you clear a way to your anxiety-free* life.
Hi there, my name’s Kathryn and I’m your Anxiety Recovery Coach.
My mission is to connect with, help and support as many open-minded, women as possible who want to transform their relationship with anxiety, fall back in love with their work and life, and willing to believe recovery is at least possible.
Over the last few years, I have honed and tweaked the tools and techniques which worked for me, into my ‘Beyond Anxiety Blueprint’ which focuses on identifying your personal path to recovery, and delivering three key outcomes:
Why not join us in our Facebook Group – our community for open-minded women from all walks of life learning to live anxiety-free, reconnect with their inner-selves, and shine in their lives, careers and businesses with conscious, calm, confidence?
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