Have you ever felt like a deer in the headlights?
Perhaps you were faced with a startling question for which
you didn’t have a response.
Maybe you were insulted or berated for an unknown reason
and caught in the wrath of another person’s anger.
Or worse yet, you may have been a victim of a mugging or
armed attack, wherein your body froze and you failed to
If you’ve ever taken a biology class or perused a
self-help book, you’ve likely heard about the fight or
The idea is simple: Whenever we encounter dangerous
situations, our brains will decide to either face the
situation or flee from it, all the while bringing about
intense emotional, psychological and physical changes.
This is controlled by the limbic system a complex set of
brain structures that control our survival instincts such
as eating, sex and fear.
On the emotional side, we typically experience either
intense fear or anger, sometimes both instantaneously.
Psychologically, our senses become heightened, allowing us
to make faster (and arguably smarter) decisions, at least
in regards to survival.
As blood flow is diverted to the more important parts of
the body, physical changes are experienced through a rush
of adrenaline, increased heart rate and increased stamina
This subconscious response has played a role in keeping us
safe since the time of our ancestors. Without these
changes, they likely would have died, having failed to
pass their genes onto us.
Granted, if things were really as simple as fight vs.
flight, then we’d likely find ourselves physically and
mentally damaged more often than not.
So which works best in a disaster survival scenario,
fight or flight? Furthermore, does this response even
apply to today’s society?
After all, times have changed significantly since our
great-great-forefathers faced attacks from wild animals or
rival tribes vying for the same land – at least life is no
longer like that in most parts of the world.
Formerly, survival was largely determined upon one’s
ability to either fight or distance themselves from a
However, we aren’t cavemen anymore, and the same tenants
of survival no longer apply to the 21st century.
But how can such a natural instinct that’s worked for
millennia just stop working?
Civilization and technology have experienced astounding
growth and advancements over time.
Today’s threats are much different than those of the past.
They are often unforeseeable, uncontrollable and beyond
our ability to comprehend. This applies equally to
natural disasters as it does to the effects of modern
warfare and global terrorism.
To that tune, limiting our response to either fight or
flight can end up being counterproductive to our survival.
There is, however, an alternative response to fight or
flight. It’s called the freeze response.
In a disaster situation, one of your main goals is to go
about unnoticed. Think about this pretty simple (though
unlikely) scenario once faced by our ancestors.
You’re in the woods when, all of a sudden, you encounter
a wild bear. Do you stay and fight? I think not.
Do you turn around and make a run for it? Probably not
because the bear would likely chase you down and tear you
The only other option is to freeze. Most people fail to
realize this as an alternative to fight and flight.
It’s in our instincts just as it is in those of wild
animals. Many animals, like the deer in headlights, simply
freeze when they sense danger.
Some take it a step further and play dead, curling up into
a ball or plopping themselves on the ground.
Don’t think there is any shame or weakness in employing
Modern society has seen an incredibly unfortunate rise in
unexpected violence in the form of terror attacks and
school shootings. Many survivors of these situations used
the freeze response to stay alive in the midst of chaos
Regardless, human evolution takes a while to progress, and
the fight or flight response isn’t going anywhere anytime
soon. It’s ingrained in our genes and still very much
applies to many situations, though those situations may
be dwindling in frequency.
So in a post-disaster world, which response works the
best: fight, flight or freeze?
There is no definitive answer.
If you’re a prepper, you may or may not have a particular
situation for which you are preparing. With so much
uncertainty as to what exactly will happen when SHTF,
who’s to say how your brain will react in a dangerous
Fight, flight and freeze may all be appropriate responses
depending on the circumstance.
Your best bet remains staying constantly vigilant and
prepared to face a variety of potentially dangerous
When the time comes, your instincts will do the deciding
for you as to how to react.
Just remember, if you do get into a situation where
fighting is unavoidable, it’s best to have an idea of how
to defend yourself.
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unarmed combat, based on successful street fighting