Fight Flight Freeze – A Guide to Anxiety for Kids

This video teaches kids how anxiety is a normal biological response – called “Fight, Flight, Freeze” – that can get triggered inappropriately in the modern world.

Anxiety Canada created this video with support from BC Partners for Mental Health and Addictions Information.

Anxiety triggers something called the “fight-flight-freeze” response (F3). This automatic response affects our thoughts, body, and behaviors. When faced with a potential threat, your thoughts focus on the danger, your body revs up to help protect you, and you take action (fight, flight, or freeze). For example, imagine that you’re out walking your dog and a skunk pops out of the bushes. You have thoughts about the skunk such as “What if it sprays us?” which helps you identify the potential danger. Your body also reacts (heart beats faster, muscle tense up) to help you get prepared to protect yourself. And, you take action, such as remaining very still and hoping the skunk doesn’t notice you (freeze) or running away (flight). As you can see, anxiety protects you. In fact, without it, we’d be extinct!

The F3 system is critical to our survival from true threat or danger, but what happens when there is no real danger? Interestingly, anxiety can also trigger this system into action when we believe there is a threat or danger even if there isn’t. For example, you may yell at your mum for bugging you about taking your driving test when you don’t feel ready (fight). Or you may call your dad to pick you up early from a new activity because you don’t feel comfortable around unfamiliar people (flight). Or, you may feel as though your mind goes blank when the teacher asks you a question (freeze). These are examples of anxiety triggering the F3 alarm even though these situations are not really dangerous. We call this a “false alarm.”

The BC Partners are a group of seven leading provincial mental health and addictions non-profit agencies: Anxiety Canada, BC Schizophrenia Society, Centre for Addictions Research of BC, Canadian Mental Health Association’s BC Division, FORCE Society for Kids’ Mental Health, Family Services of the North Shore’s Jessie’s Legacy Program and Mood Disorders Association of BC.

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