The fight-or-flight response (also called hyperarousal, or the acute stress response) is a physiological reaction that occurs in response to a perceived harmful event, attack, or threat to survival. (1)
The Fight or Flight response has a new name. It's now called the fight, flight or freeze response. Stress experts around the world are adding the word freeze to the name in deference to the fact that instead of fighting or fleeing, sometimes we tend to freeze (like a deer in the headlights) in traumatic situations. (2)
The fight or flight response (in its original form) is about survival. It's about hope. We activate it when we believe there's a chance we can outrun or outfight our attackers. The freeze response however, gets activated when's there's no hope. (2)
According to the internet dictionary, trauma is defined as:
• noun, A serious injury or shock to the body, as from violence or an accident.
• noun, An emotional wound or shock that creates substantial, lasting damage to the psychological development of a person, often leading to neurosis.
• noun, An event or situation that causes great distress and disruption.
Everyone (yes, from babies through adults) has experienced traumatic events. These traumatic events can range from being a child on a dentist chair, or written and practical driving tests, first day in middle school, first day in high school, first day in college or university, first day on the job, first day in a management or team leader role, rape, abusive relationships, being bullied, being stalked, experiencing war or tragic events like 9/11.
Each person reacts differently in every event. The difference is that “well-regulated people tend to have robust heart rate variability (HRV - is a good way of measuring the integrity of one of the brain’s arousal systems), which is reflected in their ability to have a reasonable degree of control over their impulses and emotions. This is mirrored in their capacity of their inhalations and exhalations to produce rhythmical fluctuations in heart rate.” (3)
Note that data collected from traumatized patients show that they usually have low HRV.
Yoga has lots of benefits which includes learning how to control one’s breath, learning how to be present in the moment and how to move the body mindfully. For the person who has been traumatized, yoga is a means of moving the “frozen” body. For those who find a large yoga class overwhelming, I am here to offer you a gentle, trauma sensitive yoga via a one on one session. Please contact me at [email protected]
1. Walter (1932). Wisdom of the Body. United States: W.W. Norton & Company. ISBN 0393002055.
2 Fight, Flight or Freeze Response to Stress
3. David Emerson, Elizabeth Hopper, PhD, Overcoming Trauma through Yoga