Fight, Flight or Freeze – You Decide!

               How would you respond in a life-threatening situation?  Would you have a plan, have to create one on the fly, or just freeze?  Wait a minute – what happened to fight or flight?  Aren’t those the two reactions we are supposed to have in a terrifying moment?  All too often, paralyzing fear takes over and causes us to do just that – paralyzing us in our tracks.
               In the article, “5 Tips to Becoming Street Smart,” one of the tips was to react to a threat and respond to a critical situation.  Certainly, knowing how to react is one of the elements of being street smart.  Unfortunately, that is not always the way that we do react.
               We hear of the fight or flight response so often that we assume it is natural.  Wouldn’t we just automatically know whether to flee or to fight off an attack?  When you think about it, we do talk about things like a deer “frozen in the headlights.”  So, nature does set an example of animals becoming paralyzed by the unknown.
               Unfortunately, there are many cases where victims froze when confronted with a deadly attacker.  In some cases, the victims outnumbered the attacker and still froze, unable to take action.  There are many reasons why.  One is that we are taught from a young age not to fight back, whether in school, on the playground or even as adults.  Police departments commonly warn against fighting off a mugger or other criminals, especially if a property crime such as purse snatching is involved. 
Another reason is that when we deal with a situation that is completely unknown, our mind is distracted.  It is something like the confusion of traveling to a foreign country.  You could walk into a grocery store on your street and immediately know where to go, how to find the items you are looking for and all the while talking on a cell phone or texting someone.  In another setting, where the environment is different and the language is one you do not know, then you will find that the same grocery list becomes much harder.
               The first step is to eliminate the tendency to freeze when thrown into an unknown situation.  The way to do that starts long before facing a dangerous predator, two or four-legged.  To avoid that mental freeze you have to make a decision ahead of time about how you will respond and what you are willing to do.  In terms of self-defense and life-threatening crime, how far are you willing to go to protect yourself?  Would you physically fight an attacker?  That is a decision that you should make long before ever finding yourself in a dangerous situation.
               The second phase, once you’ve decided on your response, is to begin the mental preparation.  To keep your mind from freezing, you need to exercise it and think through what if scenarios.  This is exactly the type of training that law enforcement recruits go through in the police academy.  Scenarios and realistic situations to build up the type of response that they will need to survive on the street and deal effectively and safely with difficult circumstances.

               Done right, this can also help increase your awareness of what is going on around you.  If you are paying attention to your surroundings, you can use everyday interactions to create ‘what if’ scenarios.  As you are walking down the sidewalk and you see someone walking towards you, think about what you would do if they suddenly demanded your wallet or cell phone.  What if a car pulled up next to you and asked you directions in a soft voice?  How close would you get and how would you react if the driver or a passenger tried to pull you into the car? 
               Periodically running through different possibilities can help you respond if you ever need to.  It doesn’t have to make your paranoid either.  In law enforcement, officers learn about different levels of mental awareness to their surroundings.  Ideally, when out and about, you should be aware of what is going on around you.  Sitting on the couch in your house, would be a time when you can let your guard down.  Your what if exercises should develop that awareness, but not to the point of becoming paranoid.  You should walk through a parking lot at night and ponder what you should do if someone in a parked car would attack you without becoming fearful or anxious.
               The third step is to build your muscle memory.  If you’ve gone through the mental exercise of deciding how to respond and training yourself to be aware, then the next and final step would be the actual fight.  Hopefully, you will never be in a life-threatening attack, but if you are, you will be ready to fight back.  This is the true fight or flight moment.  Fleeing may be difficult.  An attacker may be much faster than you, so fleeing may actually give them more of an advantage.  Only run if you have an escape nearby or within reach.  Or if you lucky enough to be a track star. 
               Fighting to protect yourself may be the best course of action.  You do not have to be Bruce Lee to fight back, but part of your preparedness should be to practice a few basic self-defense moves before that moment comes.  There is a lot that goes into self-defense training, much more than we will cover here.  There will be more on self-defense moves to come, but nothing replaces the actual physical practice of realistic self-defense moves and responses. 
               Remember the three basic steps to build the right reply to the fight, flight or freeze options.
1.      Decide now – Make your mind up ahead of time on how you will respond.
2.     Constant planning – Use ‘what if’ scenarios to prepare yourself for different threats.
3.     Build muscle memory – Join or practice self-defense tactics to keep yourself physically prepared.          
Following this basic process will help you deal with the unexpected and to escape danger.

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