How to Turn off the Fight/Flight/Freeze Response: Anxiety Skills #4



When the fight/flight/freeze response kicks in, the thinking part of your brain shuts down. Trying to force yourself to calm down rarely works. That’s because your brain is meant to default to ancient survival responses like the fight/flight/freeze response.
In this video, I give an overview of how you can turn off that fight/flight/freeze response by using grounding activities to turn on your parasympathetic nervous system.

Check out my grounding skills playlist to learn 15 ways to turn off the fight/flight/freeze response:

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Therapy in a Nutshell, LLC, and the information provided by Emma McAdam are solely intended for informational and entertainment purposes and are not a substitute for advice, diagnosis, or treatment regarding medical or mental health conditions. Although Emma McAdam is a licensed marriage and family therapist, the views expressed on this site or any related content should not be taken for medical or psychiatric advice. Always consult your physician before making any decisions related to your physical or mental health.

About Me:
I’m Emma McAdam. I’m a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, and I have worked in various settings of change and growth since 2004. My experience includes juvenile corrections, adventure therapy programs, wilderness therapy programs, an eating disorder treatment center, a residential treatment center, and I currently work in an outpatient therapy clinic.

In therapy I use a combination of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, Systems Theory, positive psychology, and a bio-psycho-social approach to treating mental illness and other challenges we all face in life. The ideas from my videos are frequently adapted from multiple sources. Many of them come from Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, especially the work of Steven Hayes, Jason Luoma, and Russ Harris. The sections on stress and the mind-body connection derive from the work of Stephen Porges (the Polyvagal theory), Peter Levine (Somatic Experiencing) Francine Shapiro (EMDR), and Bessel Van Der Kolk. I also rely heavily on the work of the Arbinger institute for my overall understanding of our ability to choose our life’s direction.
And deeper than all of that, the Gospel of Jesus Christ orients my personal worldview and sense of security, peace, hope, and love

If you are in crisis, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at or 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or your local emergency services.
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46 comments

  1. This is the channel I have been looking for. A well explained straight to the point exercise on decreasing anxiety. Great job!

    I'm practicing this for myself. As I can almost never behave in a social environment, and miss so many great opportunities.

  2. The only problem is when your brain releases adrenaline ( fight or flight / panic attack ) it's kinda too late, breathing won't shut it down in a split second and won't prevent from getting humiliated in public.
    Exposure therapy with medication such as Propranolol I think is pretty good idea, first you get used with the meds and then after you get used to these specific situations u probs won't need it anymore.

  3. a lot of the times I will try to calm down and I'll breathe through it and start to feel a little better but then later on I'll bounce back to that anxious state again and its rinse repeat but each time I struggle to get it under control again, especially when things happen in the day that are beyond my control. i really struggle to manage this….

  4. After 50% of video still no "how to" so I decided to share some techniques with people really looking for it. Super quick(below one minute): blow on your thumb. A bit longer(a few minutes) – slow down your breath and exhale, very, very slowly. Yoga(several minutes) Shavasana, Setu Bandasana, Bitilasana, Marjarisana, Balasana, Sukhasana, Uttasana. My favourite here is the Savasana, the Corpse Pose. What can stress the corpse? Even death is not enough 🙂

  5. Exactly what I needed to hear. My brain is vigilant in reminding me
    To be on guard since I saw a lizard on a table in my house.
    It is a struggle to walk near this table while fearful.

  6. Could you at least have shown one technique in this video instead of having me search through your other videos? If I was in a stressful situation and searched for ways to calm down, this would fire me up hahah

  7. does anyone know how to stop these feelings from over taking , it would be very helpful I’m dealing with alot of stress right now and i don’t really know who to do to turn to, or how to turn off those feelings, can anyone help me with some ideas on what i can do to stop these feelings, thank you.

  8. There's a sort of inside joke about what should follow the FFF. If it isn't truly a fight, flight or freeze situation, the subsequent "F" should be followed by the word "it". It's empowering.

  9. Jesus loves you so much that he died for our sins on the cross because NOBODY is perfect. Whether you want to repent or not it's your choice not mine, God bless.

    Jesucristo le ama tanto que él muriera por todos nuestros pecados porque NADIE ES PERFECTO. Si usted quiere arrepentirse o no, es SU opción, NO LA MÍA. ¡Dios bendice!

  10. Im starting realize I had axienty as little kid but didnt know what it was. I was stressing for long time I think it cause me to be schzophrenic.

  11. Can you talk about the fawn response too? I have been traumatized so much that when I feel a threat or even a simple criticism makes my mind goes blank, I immediately lose my individual thinking and I began doubting myself even when I know it is the other person who is wrong but it is as if, I shut down my own opinion to adopt the opinion of others in order to have peace. It is automatic I cannot control it except when I distance myself from other but when I take distance with others I appear rude where I just want to not fawn in a presence of threat. Can you make a video about how codependent can maintain their sense of self while considering the perception of others?

  12. Been doing this for several decades.
    In order to calm breathing and heart rate focus the breathing through the top of the sinus so you feel the air hit the top, yet breathe slowly. Take small sips of air as a boxer would, but draw them out into one long breath (you'd be surprised how little air you really need to constantly supply yourself with, as well, when you're in a low oxygen environment like an enclosed space or the high Andies you'll be prepared for just such an occasion). This can get my heart rate down to 50 bpm.
    As the breath slowly makes its way down to the lungs let it fill the bottom of the lungs, pulling with the diaphragm and only imperceptibly expanding the lower abdomen and not the upper chest. As the air enters your body picture it. (I think of it as a fluid made up of little balls of light, but you can picture them as anything, like packmen, if you want) Flowing in, the oxygen laden individual molecules picked up by the little hairs, dispersing to little holes made specially for them and see them going throughout your body (the more you know about your anatomy picture it correctly or your mind will get hung up on the lack of realism, you'll forget about your breathing and have to start all over again), dropping off light as they go, picking up weight as they travel down through your legs and then exiting through your feet into the ground creating an electrical connection (which is kind of what really happens, losing an electron. Which reminds me, two atoms are walking down the street. One says "Wait, I dropped an electron" the other asks "Are you sure?" "Yes, I'm positive!" ). Hold your breath in for at least 5 seconds then just as gradually breathe out, this time picturing it as something else (I think of mine as grey balls, like the light went out so now they have to leave) picking up carbon as they go and ultimately exiting through the bottom of the sinus and out the nostril.
    Did you notice I didn't say anything about breathing out through your mouth?
    It will work with or without shoes on, though when I learned it (prana yoga) it was without shoes on a beach at the ocean. Remember that there's an electrical current (about 500,000 volts) flowing through the air about the planet (only for about the last 4 billion years) which we pay the electrical companies to collect by cutting a magnetic field with a copper wire, (giving the ambient electrical charge amperage) from which it flows into a capacitor and they sell it to us to run the fridge.
    Watch when Bruce Lee gets a shove from someone in "The Big Boss"… that really works to resist being moved when you don't want to.
    I was told to think of air in as "in with the good" and air out as "out with the bad", but that didn't work for me because what I exhale is good for plant life and what plants exhale is good for me (the whole "life feeds on life" thing TOOL was talking about), so I think of "in with the oxygen and out with the carbon" hence the light and grey balls.
    Prana Yoga goes somewhat (A Lot!) more in depth than I've described here, but this will get you started.
    Remember what Tyler Durden said "Rule #1: Nobody talks about "Fight, Flight or Freeze Club"!

  13. Thank you so much I've always felt that there is something wrong with my body. Ive had a panic attack and I felt that im going to die and get since ive felt that I might get the ill or be next one to have a serious illness because of the updates in Facebook I get anxious and can't breath Everytime someone on the news of a friend die. And thank you now I feel safe in the present moment been staying away from sugar recently

  14. Seriously??? What's up with the huge spider image out of nowhere?? What about people with arachnophobia?? Get a grip!!

  15. What she is talking about is turning the freeze response off when you are NOT in danger. However if you are ACTUALLY in danger there is a reason behind the freeze response in your brain. To shut it off in a dangerious situations might be more harm to you. REMEMBER it is there for a reason.

  16. I had to halt therapy for financial reasons. I know these videos are not a replacement, but they are helping me so much in the meantime. I try to watch one and practice every night before bed. Thank you so much! xo

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