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Fight, Flight and Freeze: My Experience With 3 Types of Anxiety Attacks

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Anxiety attacks come in all different shapes and sizes. No one person experiences an attack the same way. There are a wide variety of symptoms to keep an eye out for. In order to break down some of the confusion I’ve listed three different anxiety attacks I face, along with a general description of each experience.

The fight-flight-freeze (or alternatively, simply the fight-or-flight) reflex is activated when our minds sense danger. Our bodies physically prepare for it. However, when living with an anxiety disorder, this reflex gets triggered when no actual danger is present, making the body’s reactions unpleasant rather than helpful. This is the reflex behind most anxiety attacks. Our mind and body feel that we are in danger, even if we are perfectly safe. My anxiety attacks follow the fight-flight-freeze model differently, depending on the situation.


When my anxiety is triggered by a person, particularly a specific not-so-nice remark they make, I find that the “fight” reflex tends to take over. I do whatever I can to ease my anxiety at the time. I yell and scream and hurl insults just to get the other person to stop hurting me. Of course, this tends to lead to a nasty fall out. I always apologize for the things I said when my mind went out of control, but the damage is done. For me, these are the worst type of anxiety attacks.


The most common type of anxiety attack I feel is when my “flight” reflex is triggered. If a certain situation is causing me anxiety, my brain becomes obsessed with getting out of the situation. All I can focus on is getting away. I may need to leave the room and often use the excuse of needing a bathroom break. Alternatively, this can make me avoid a situation entirely. Sometimes, the anxiety leading up to an event is so bad that I can’t go at all.


In my experience, the “freeze” anxiety attack is the most intense one. In the heat of a very anxious moment, my body shuts down. My mind screams at me to move, but my muscles don’t work. I may have a blank facial expression and stare down to avoid all eye contact. My face grows hot with embarrassment. Eventually, the “flight” instinct will take over after enough adrenaline has been pumped through my body, and I will flee the situation.

Anxiety is a difficult disorder to live with. Oftentimes, in the midst of an attack, I will be unable to communicate what it is I need. To calm me down, it would be best to ask simple questions that can be answered non-verbally. And if you’ve ever helped me through one of these attacks, I appreciate you more than you’ll ever know.

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Thinkstock image via Jupiterimages

Originally published: February 27, 2017
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