The Stress Response

The Stress Response

The "Stress Response", or more commonly used to be called the "fight or flight" response, more recently updated to the "fight, flight, or freeze" response is something that all humans have been equipped with and it has proven to be a very important and very much needed alert system to help us humans survive throughout the ages. However, in our modern society there aren't too many saber tooth tigers left and we are not in the immediate danger that we used to be but most of us still find ourselves in the "fight or flight" response on a daily level just to cope with our daily lives at work and at home. 

Here are some depictions and symptoms of the various phases of the stress response:


"A deer in headlights" - to be so frightened or surprised that you cannot move or think.


To "play possum" is to pretend to be dead (to freeze), a trick  possums use to defend themselves from predators. 

The "Fight or Flight" Response is an inborn genetic response which helps us to protect ourselves throughout our lives. The surge of adrenalin gives us the strength we need to either get the heck out of there, or stand our ground and fight off the danger. The fight/flight response is one of survival.


It is an inborn "pre-wired" response for dealing with dangerous situations. Both fighting and fleeing require the same activities on the part of the body's organs.  The purpose of this response is to prepare the individual for vigorous muscular activity in response to a perceived threat.  By itself, this response is normal, healthy, and adaptive.  It is when the "fight/flight" response occurs too frequently or is greatly prolonged that we begin to experience the negative effects of stress.

Fight – symptoms are: hands in fists, desire to punch, tight jaw, grinding teeth, feelings of anger/rage, homicidal or suicidal feelings, knotted stomach, nausea, burning stomach, etc.


Flight – symptoms: restless legs/feet, numbness in legs, anxiety/shallow breathing, fidgety, feeling trapped, tense, one activity after the other, excessive exercise, etc.

Many of us use this stress response far too often and a lot of us find ourselves in this mode a great deal of the time. Unfortunately, the more we stay in this mode the more harmful it is to our mental, emotional and physical selves.


Too much "fight/flight" activity without corresponding rest and relaxation is what distress is all about. Prolonged stress responses result in chronic suppression of the immune system and leave us open to further illness, disease and early death.


And, as much as our Fight or Flight Response is a good thing in that it has helped us survive over the ages and alerts us to various dangers in our life, it also becomes a conditioned response to avoid or run away from all those things that we get stressed out from and don’t think we can handle. It makes it so we don’t deal with those issues causing our stress/distress because they contain negative feelings that are equated with danger (pain) from past negative experiences so we suppress these memories and feelings. But, in doing so, we increase our dysfunctional thoughts/beliefs, feelings and acting-out behaviors.







(914) 391-4350

Very knowledgeable and experienced therapist
  • LinkedIn
  • Facebook
  • Twitter