No one ever talks about the "freeze" response . . .

Nearly everyone has heard of the “fight or flight” response along with the array of physical responses that are activated whenever a threat is perceived: a quick release of adrenalin, the cardio-vascular system speeds up, blood goes from the extremities to the vital organs leaving hands and feet cooler and lowering skin temperature, brainwave patterns change, and senses become more acute in order to identify the threat with the objective of deciding whether to fight or flee.

There is one problem with this, however, that is often overlooked, which is that a person already in sensory overload who experiences a crisis event is less likely to be able to make that decision, causing another stress response that we will label “freeze.” Obviously, a person who is incapable of either fighting the threat or fleeing from it will fall victim to it.

In overload mode, we are experiencing too much stress which results in our becoming unproductive.  Some of the problems associated with overload include diminished memory and recall, often leading to lack of clarity, poor judgment, indecisiveness, and loss of perspective, that is, that our challenges are perceived as out of proportion to their actual magnitude.

It is important to understand that the brain keeps a very accurate record of everything we experience, and it has been designed in a way to filter the memories we have in order to – for lack of a better way of putting it at the present – keep us sane.  Stress short-circuits the brain’s program when it puts the body in “survival mode.”  The front part of the brain loses function, and the middle part of the brain, which is designed simply to help keep us alive, takes control.  This change, as evidenced by changes in brainwave patterns, results in cognitive issues such as confusion, uncertainty, poor attention, poor concentration, poor memory, and so on.  Additionally, people may become disoriented as to time, place, or person, have difficulty identifying objects or people, experience changes in their perception of their surroundings, and also experience changes in levels of alertness.

Quite simply put, a person trying to live from day to day in "overload" mode is not prepared for a critical incident in which the fight or flight response is triggered; consequently, that person will likely freeze instead.

If you are one of those struggling to manage the daily stresses of the job, get help now.  Your survival, or the survival of others, may depend on it.  Reach out to us by sending a message to and one of our peer support specialists will be glad to chat with you.

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