fight flight or freeze

Fight Flight Freeze or Freeze Response in Anxiety and Adhd

Ready to work on your anxiety? It’s helpful to explore how you typically react to when stress shows up, that is causing anxiety. Once aware, you can change that pattern.


Generally there are three ways we I see my adhd and anxious clients respond to stress that contribute to anxiety.


Each of these responses contribute to anxiety. Change your response and decrease your anxiety.

Fight Flight Freeze Response: Fight

The fight response happens when you get angry in the face of stress. When you feel scared out of control, and unsure do you take it out on others? Do you blame? Do you lose your temper? You may be prone to the fight response.


Beneath anger is usually fear. Anger corresponds with the stress response of fight. When we were cavemen, and another caveman or animal tried to harm us, we needed this response to survive. Now, this is not an adaptive trait. People with adhd often have this response due to their childhood. They also have issues with emotional regulation that make it hard to cope with stress. The problem with this response is it often alienates others. It can cause relationship and work problems. It also distracts you from dealing with the stress constructively.

When we respond to stress this way, we treat it as a life or death danger, which it rarely is. It’s not good for your body.

Fight Flight Freeze response: Flight. Running Away from it, Distracting, and Numbing

Some of us get busy trying to control what we can. People with an eating disorder may go on a diet or exercise obsessively. Workaholics work. Substance abusers use their substances. Perfectionists get to scheduling, planning, goal setting, list-making. Pick your poison. Losing weight, making lists, or using drugs is only a temporary way to numb yourself out. This corresponds with the stress response of fleeing. We needed to run from danger when it was there to survive. As a young child with adhd, you may have felt you had no way to control your life. This is a widespread coping skill.

Fight Flight Freeze Response: Freeze.

Some of us shut down. We avoid, stay in bed, and feel we cannot fulfill our responsibilities. Our friends and families start to worry about us. We can’t make decisions or solve our problems, so we don’t. This is very common for women with adhd and or women with anxiety. This makes things worse. This is the deer in the headlight’s response to stress.


These are all forms of fight flight or freeze. It’s biological. This is how our bodies react to danger. Most stress isn’t dangerous in our modern-day, but we misinterpret it as such. Too many emails don’t equal a saber tooth tiger. Yet, our brain may respond to these kinds of things as if they are life or death. This is where the problem starts.

You may be interested in learning about polyvagal theory. Here is a link that 

explains what happens in your body during freeze.


The Fawn or Appease response is another behavior when faced with stress.


Essentially, this refers to pleasing those around you as a way to avoid stress. It shows up as conflict-avoidant behavior. Many of my clients with adhd and anxiety engage in this behavior when stressed. It comes from childhoods where they lacked control or practical coping skills in their relationships and family.


All of these responses to stress make anxiety worse.

They trap you in fear and anxiety. They keep you in unhealthy relationships, situations, and life patterns.

But you can override these patterns once you see them!


Fight Flight or Freeze Response. Questions to Help you Discover your own Pattern.

Here is a four-part formula for discovering your pattern and beginning to change it. Put some time aside to do this exercise thoroughly.


Think about the thing in your life that causes you the most anxiety and stress right now.


1. What are you worried about?

What are you afraid of?

What are you thinking?

What other emotions come up?


2. Write down your thoughts.


3. Pay attention to what happens in your body and how you want to react.

Number 3 is the key to discovering how you typically respond to stress.


Did you want to get in bed? Lash out? Get busy? Pay attention to what happens after you do this exercise.

4. Write it down. Put it away.


It is natural for us to try to rid ourselves of uncomfortable emotions. Unfortunately, this is what drives at maintains all anxiety disorders.

You can learn to interact with your anxious feelings and thoughts differently. Strategies like acceptance, self-compassion, mindfulness, and other rain will all help with this.


You learned to appease fight flight or freeze as a child. At that time, it was a coping skill that worked. Usually, it doesn’t work as a good coping skill as you get older. For those with anxiety, it makes it worse. For those with adhd, it causes more problems and taxes your executive functioning..

You can discover the stress pattern that is keeping you anxious. Once you uncover it, you can begin to see with clarity how you are exacerbating the stress in your life. Then, you can choose to respond differently.

Fight flight freeze pdf


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Medical information obtained from this website is not intended as a substitute for professional care. If you have or suspect you have a problem, you should consult a healthcare provider.

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