F3 or the Fight-Flight-Freeze response is the body’s automatic, built-in system designed to protect us from threat or danger. For example, when you hear the words, “look out!” you may be surprised to find how fast you move, and thankfully so, as you narrowly miss a flying puck sailing through your kitchen window! Or when you see a bear on the trail up ahead, you stop and remain quiet and still until it moves on. In both scenarios your system demonstrates its effectiveness at protecting you from danger.
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 threat or danger even if there is not. For example, your teen may yell at you for pushing her into taking her driving test when she doesn’t feel ready (fight). Or your son may avoid going to a party or leave early because he doesn’t feel comfortable around unfamiliar people (flight). Or, your child may feel as though her mind goes blank when the teacher asks her a question (freeze). All of these are examples can mistakenly triggering the F3 alarm.
When many of these sensations occur together (approximately 4 or more), we call this a panic attack. Panic attacks are completely harmless, but some teens become afraid of these sensations, worrying that something is wrong with them when the F3 system gets activated. You can share all of this information with your child through some simple explanations as well as showing them how the F3 works by going here. Start by saying, “We all have a fight-flight-freeze system that protects us from danger…”
… kinda like having spidey sense. But sometimes your spidey sense goes off when there is no danger, like when Spiderman swings into action thinking he is breaking up a fight when it’s just two friends playing. False Alarm!
…kinda like wearing protective padding to play hockey, football or lacrosse but you accidentally keep your gear on to go to class or sit down for dinner! Say what?! False Alarm!
…kinda like having a really sophisticated firewall on your computer to filter out junk mail. Except it mislabels email from mum as spam. Ooops! False Alarm!