Fight, flight or freeze

Fight, flight or freeze

When a soldier is under threat, he quickly learns there are only three options, fight, flight, or freeze. The process of making the decision and taking action happens in a nano second, but to the soldier time has slowed down in his head and it seems like hours. These are survival instincts and they keep us alive.

For the soldier that has served and is struggling with post traumatic stress, the nervous system is on alert 24/7. The slightest provocation sends him/her over the edge, red mist envelops, he/she are easily angered and quick to get irritated, making the transition into day to day living a constant battle.

  • Have you found yourself becoming angry over the simplest of things which wouldn’t normally bother you?
  • Desperate to get out of the house and take your daily exercise, or take a break from the those captive with you in lockdown, even though we know that we risk putting ourselves in danger and others each time we do?

The current situation for us is not in our learning history and as individuals we are all making adjustments and using our coping skills to get through as best we can.  Some of us will be keeping busy, doing outstanding jobs, cooking, cleaning, others might be focusing on education and learning new skills, watching TV or reading or being creative. These are all ways of keeping the nervous system under control and form part of our coping mechanism. 

Our dogs nervous system acts on exactly the same principle as ours, the need to stay safe and survive. Dogs that are nervous or anxious can go through life in that hyper vigilant state, just like the solder.

They are quick to react and sometimes make poor choices and behave in ways that we think are inappropriate – they are using their coping skills, their survival instincts to either, fight the threat, run away from the danger, or in that moment they might even freeze first, before they make that nano second decision to act, or remain frozen to the spot in total fear. When the threat is over, dogs then reset their nervous system with a ‘shake off’ which is the same action as they would do if they have been swimming and were shaking off the excess water. They may do several shake offs before they are able to function normally again but the nervous system will still take time to calm and will remain on high alert for some considerable time depending on the threat level., in some cases upto 36 hours. Offering your dog access to foraging activities and other items of enrichment along with the opportunity to be quiet and relax will certainly help them at all times, but even more so if they have had cause to use their coping skills of fight, flight or freeze.

So, what do you do when the threat is over what do you do to reset/relax, calm the system down?
Our next blogs will be talking about the need and power of sleep, for us and our canine companions.

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