Taking a Deeper Look at the Freeze and Fawn Responses

Most people have heard of the fight-or-flight responses regarding how your mind comprehends fear. When you’re in a dangerous situation — even a perceived one — your mind tells the rest of your body that it needs to defend itself somehow. 

Fight means standing up to the threat, while flight means running away from it or avoiding it. But those aren’t the only two natural responses. Freeze and fawn are the other two common reactions to perceived threats, and it’s important to know how they work.  At Spectrum Connections Therapy, we see a lot of our neurodivergent clients engage in freeze and fawn responses as ways to keep them feeling safe from overwhelming and triggering neurotypical experiences.

Recognizing these responses can give you a better idea of how you react when you’re faced with a real or perceived threat. So, let’s dig a little deeper into what you should expect and how you might naturally react when you’re scared about something. 

What Is the Freeze Response?

The freeze response isn’t as simple as it sounds. You’ve probably heard of animals “playing dead” when faced with a threat to evade danger. While freezing in place when you’re stressed or scared is a possibility, this particular response goes a bit deeper than that. 

This response can cause you to feel completely stuck. You might lose your ability to speak, move, or even think about your next action. It’s a very physical response that can cause your body to feel numb, your limbs to feel heavy, or even cause you to hold your breath. 

Unlike fight-or-flight, the freeze response makes you feel like you don’t have any other option. You might want to fight back or run away. But, your mind is telling you that you should be so scared that you’re “frozen” in place. 

What Is the Fawn Response?

The fawn response is very different from the other three common stress responses. It requires a bit more thinking and strategy, yet it is completely natural for some people. 

People who naturally go into a fawn response when faced with a threat will do whatever it takes to neutralize them without force or aggression. For example, if someone yelled at you or threatened to hurt you, a fawn response might be giving them what they want or trying to appease the threat so it won’t come to fruition. 

Obviously, this is a dangerous game to play when you’re dealing with an individual who might get used to getting their way from you. You might have a tendency to fawn if you’re a natural people-pleaser. But, it could lead to more improper treatment and even greater forms of abuse. 

How to Calm Your Stress Responses

The fight, flight, freeze, and fawn responses are all meant to keep you safe when a threat is present. But, if you’re dealing with anxiety or you find that you’re triggering these responses when there isn’t a real threat, it’s important to know how to bring yourself back to the present and to calm down quickly. 

One of the best ways to do that is to practice mindfulness. Close your eyes and focus on taking slow, deep breaths. Tune in to your senses and what’s around you. When you stay focused on the present and the reality of a situation, you’ll be able to better recognize if the threat you’re feeling is valid or not. If it’s not, you can start to calm down quickly. 

Engaging in relaxation exercises can help you manage these stress responses more effectively. Instead of immediately reacting to a perceived threat, you can use different exercises to calm down and keep one of these responses from taking over. 

Finally, if you’re struggling with anxiety and these stress responses are happening frequently, consider reaching out to a mental health professional. Therapy can help you better understand what’s causing your anxiety and help you find effective strategies for managing it. 

Be well,

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