Fight, Flight, Freeze or Friend? How Do You Respond?

Have you heard of automatic or stress responses? What will your body naturally do if a stress or concern presents itself? Many of us believe we know what we would do. We can talk the talk, but until we are presented with a situation, will we know how to walk the walk? And if we think our response will be one way and it’s not, then what will happen next?

The Four F’s

Our bodies’ have a natural or automatic reaction to stressful situations. This is also known as the four, f’s. Fight, Flight, Freeze or Friend (also called Fawn). 

As you read through perhaps you can be more intune with how you handle stressful situations. May this be a positive resource for you now, or in the future. 

The Very Well Mind states, “The fight-or-flight response, also known as the acute stress response, refers to the physiological reaction that occurs when in the presence of something mentally or physically terrifying. This response is triggered by the release of hormones that prepare your body to either stay and deal with a threat or to run away to safety.”


Fight, this may seem somewhat obvious. If you are presented with a situation that causes a stress reaction and you instantly feel like jumping into the ring and knocking that stressor down, then “fight” might be your natural response. During the fight response your heart rate and blood flow might be redirected to your center core for protection, leaving your hands and feet feeling cold. Your mindset might shift to meet the stress head on and in the case of an attacker, you buck up and are ready to fight.

Woman being attacked fights back showing fight response to stress
Woman running away from stressful situation showing flight response


Flight, this is very similar to the fight response, but with the opposite end reaction. You will still have an increased heart rate and your blood flow will still move to your center mass for core protection, leaving your hands and feet cold, but instead of rolling up your sleeves and preparing to fight, you turn to the fastest way out or away from the stress and run. 


Freeze, imagine playing a game of freeze tag in real life, but in this game the outcome is serious. When we played freeze tag as children we were supposed to freeze when tagged, but if freezing is your natural stress response, then you more than likely have a bigger concern than just a tag. For example; when prey is caught by a predator, the response is likely to freeze and lay low. You can imagine that in a threatening situation if you freeze your chance of survival or not suffering bodily harm is reduced by the inability to fight or flight.

Friend or Fawn

Friend (or Fawn), I had never really considered friending as a stress response, and then I witnessed it in a training scenario. A fellow student had been preparing, mentally, and believed they were ready, should any harm come their way. They arrived at a Defensive Shooting Course to work on and expand their training. During this course each student works through a scenario with one or two threats entering their bedroom. This student was ready, she had a plan, and then the door opened. She immediately started talking to the threats, trying to negotiate with the imaginary threats. I gave her an extra 3 seconds out of kindness, and then told her they won. She was stunned, she couldn’t believe her response. She was confident that she would be ready to defend herself and instead she tried to befriend them and help them make a better decision in life.

How Would You Respond to a Stressful Situation?

Moving forward, let’s focus on how you would respond if you ever found yourselves in a stressful situation. There is no guarantee this will play out how you wish in real life, but still it’s important to be aware. Some of you may have been in a stressful situation before and may know your response but for everyone else, here is a glimpse into how you MAY respond.

Let’s talk Spiders

If you walk into the bathroom in the middle of the night and see a spider on the bathmat, how will you respond? Do you quickly pull your shoe off and SMACK it (Fight)? Or do you turn and run screaming there is a spider on the bathroom floor (Flight)? Maybe you turn to stone, barely able to call out for help in fear of the spider (Freeze) or maybe you run and get a cup from the kitchen, capturing the spider and setting it free outside so that it can live a full life (Friend). 

Spider in the bathroom

Understanding how YOU respond to stressful situations can benefit the outcome of them, and knowing how to react. Your reaction could potentially be what saves your life, or others.

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