Fight, Flight, Freeze, or Fawn – Stress Response Tips

Fight, Flight, Freeze, Fawn - Stress Response Tips

Stress is commonplace through many facets of daily life. While some levels of stress are manageable, those suffering from depression, anxiety or addiction can have a particularly difficult time processing the stressors presenting themselves regularly. Each individual will respond to stress in their own unique way, though many responses can typically be categorized into one of four different areas: fight, flight, freeze or fawn

These responses can be triggered by actual or perceived threats, regardless of the reality behind the feeling. Understanding each of these responses and how an individual inherently responds to stress can help them better understand their reactions and create a more effective coping strategy for dealing with anxiety, depression or addiction. While these responses serve a useful purpose, they can also inhibit other areas of recovery if they are not addressed in a conscious, healthy manner.

The “Fight” Response

Those who respond to stress utilizing the “fight” response can feel attacked by stressors in their lives and may react by directly confronting the source of this stress. This kind of response can produce an increased heart rate or extreme state of vigilance, accompanied by feelings of anger, resentment, frustration or fear. However, the “fight” response can be inherently dangerous through the recovery process. While this stress response is designed to perceive and address external stresses or threats, those suffering from anxiety, depression or addiction may find it challenging to find a tangible source of their emotions. They may feel anger or be compelled to confront the nearest person, even if they are not at fault. 

The “Flight” Response

The “flight” response involves a need to escape from stressful situations. This response can lead a person to look for any way to either physically, mentally or emotionally distance oneself self from stressors and may manifest as the need to leave a particular social gathering or to avoid certain people or topics of discussion. This response can be beneficial when dealing with urges, as it can help remove a person from a stressful situation and return to a safe environment. However, when dealing with recovery overall, this response can also lend itself towards evasive tendencies or a refusal to confront deeper, underlying issues that may be necessary to progress through recovery from addiction, anxiety or depression. 

The “Freeze” Response

This response involves an individual ceasing movement and even their decision-making skills and can leave a person feeling paralyzed in fear or anxiety. Those experiencing extreme amounts of stress can find it difficult to remove themselves from a dangerous situation or even employ other coping or grounding strategies. While this response is intended to help a person wait until a threat passes, it can be difficult to escape feelings of stress from anxiety or depression until action is taken, creating a complex cycle to break out of. 

The “Fawn” Response

This stress response is the inherent action of trying to please whatever or whoever is creating stress to prevent further strain. Often surfacing in interpersonal conflicts, this response can have a person put their own interests, needs or feelings aside to make another happy. While this can help in the moment, continuous employment of this strategy can hinder one’s sense of self-worth or compromise one’s ability to recognize their own needs in the first place. The fawn response might lead to further difficulties in establishing one’s identity and instead measures one’s worth against how they make others feel, rather than how they feel about themselves. 

Tips for Each Stress Response

Everyone inherently employs these stress responses, but understanding their nature can help overcome addiction, anxiety, or depression. Those who find they respond more often with a “fight” response may need to focus more on relaxation self-care methods to quell feelings of pent-up frustration or anger. In contrast, those who find they more often “freeze” in response to danger may want to focus on creating an accessible support system and practicing elements of agency from an early point in their recovery. Those who tend to embrace “flight” responses may want first to establish a safe space where they can confront difficult problems when needed. Those who “fawn” may wish to engage in self-fulfilling activities and working to measure one’s success or interests objectively. While all of these elements are important in addressing anxiety, depression or addiction, understanding one’s common stress responses can help formulate an effective, personalized plan for recovery. 


Stress is a constant through recovery, and understanding your stress responses can help you develop a more comprehensive plan for your journey. If you or a loved one struggles with addiction and the stresses involved in your life and are ready to take the first step towards understanding and overcoming your unique hurdles, Brighton Recovery Center can help you today. With an array of programs, ranging from our detox and residential facilities to partial hospitalization and intensive outpatient programs, we can meet you and your unique needs and goals wherever you are in the recovery process. Each of our programs can be further personalized to help you address your responses to stress. Peers and professionals alike can work alongside you to develop your own best practices for maintaining a healthy, sober lifestyle. For more information on the many ways we can help you better understand your stress or to talk to a caring, trained staff member about your unique situation, call us today at (844) 479-7035.

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