Fight, Flight, or Freeze?The Trauma Reaction and Recovery Response

April 3, 2019

When trauma occurs, or even a potential trauma occurs the body responds in one of 3 ways. Fight, Flight, or Freeze.

Which one happens depends much on the details of the trauma, in other words, the circumstances will determine how the body responds most effectively in the moment.


In the fight or the flight response, the brain is triggered to start a cascade of biochemical events through the glands and organs that send an increased supply of blood to the muscles, pump the heart and lungs harder and release glucose to provide immediate increased energy to the muscles and brain to enable the fight or the flight needed to overcome the trauma or potential trauma.



The freeze response triggers both the parasympathetic (rest & recover) and the sympathetic (survival mode strength) nervous systems to enable a cascade of events that lead to enabling one to essentially play possum or take it another step further to disassociate depending on the trauma. Muscles contract and freeze, gaze and or breath may freeze in this state. The freeze state is only triggered when neither fight nor flight will be possible; this is a survival mechanism and if not relieved, one will enter complete shutdown state. The heart rate and respiration slow, muscles become limp, endorphins are released, and no pain is felt. Often, in this state, the person is no longer aware of their surroundings or what is happening, disassociation for the purpose of survival may occur.


The body does all this through a cooperative system between the nervous system, organs, and endocrine system the system that produces hormones. This cooperative mechanism is known as the Hypothalamus – Pituitary – Adrenal Axis, or HPA axis and is what maintains the balance to enable survival through a stress/trauma. Once the trauma and or stress has come to an end, the body returns to homeostasis. When the trauma or perspective trauma is over, ideally the body turns off the sympathetic nervous systems fight or flight response and allows the parasympathetic nervous system to take over, providing rest and recovery mode.


What happens when the trauma goes on for weeks, months, or even years? Events like divorce, or the loss of a loved one are traumatic, require a mourning process, and usually have a reasonable time frame around them for full recovery to take place. Forcing this process may do more harm than good. It is beneficial to recognize the normal process and allow it as the body and brain are designed to move through the phases of healing from the loss. 


When one has to continue to live an ongoing trauma, like living in the midst of a war zone, or in an abusive or domestic violence situation, living with an addicted or ill parent or partner, this can lead the body to a chronic need for adrenaline and cortisol to keep up. This leads the HPA axis into overdrive and can send it out of balance, causing problems throughout the organism. Even an ever over stimulated nervous system from lifestyle choices about work, hobbies, and habits can push the stress response system into overdrive and eventually, burnout.


When burnout occurs one may experience muscle and or joint pain, digestive issues, insomnia, headaches, chronic pain, mood or emotional problems, develop allergies, skin problems, chronic colds and or susceptibility due to immune system depression or some other manifestation of stress as a physical symptom in the body.


So how does one recover from trauma and/or chronic stress?

It is a multistep process and of course depends on what trauma occurred. If one experiences a severe threat or stress that leaves one shaken but safe and sound, the recovery is quick and the body can generally handle this through normal inflammatory responses to clean up the stress. Homeostasis returns and one enjoys a healthy life again. When the stress, or trauma is more severe, causes physical or psychological damage, or continues over time, the HPA axis gets depressed and the entire organism begins to suffer from the imbalance. This is when multiple symptoms may begin to arise as listed above.


There are many different therapeutic approaches to help one recover from the effects of trauma and the stress that comes with it and remains after. 


It is best approached from a holistic view, and addressed through lifestyle, diet, physical body,spiritual, and mind therapies. It is a good idea to work with a trusted professional, or more than one if needed, who can coach and advise on lifestyle and dietary support while providing the body work, spiritual coaching, and or mind work to help break the stress cycle and bring the body back into homeostasis, harmony, and health.


Not everyone who suffers a trauma recovers in the same way, or has the same needs. There are many options to help one move on after trauma and stress are over. Specific dietary changes and or supportive herbs or foods may be recommended depending on specific needs.  Lifestyle changes may be needed, and relaxation training, exercise, fresh air, water, sunlight, and connection with others and with Source, must be part of the recovery plan. The options for body, mind and spirit work are plentiful!


I list just a few here, this is a very abbreviated list, please research and choose the best for your own needs.


Body-Mind Therapies: an abbreviated selection of therapies that provide the possibility of somato-emotional release



Myofascial Release                                           

Primal ScreamTherapy

Neuro Emotional Technique                            

Somatic Emotional Release Therapy

Ecstatic Dance                                                        

The Emotion Code


Neural Therapy


Transformational Breath

Meditation and Prayer                                               

Family Constellation

Nia/Dance Therapy                                             

Energy Healing

Art Therapy                                                            


Tapping Techniques                                            

Lotus Touch


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