Fight, Flight, or Freeze: How to Overcome Your Natural Response to an Active Shooter Scenario


Mass shootings may account for a portion of all gun deaths in the country, but people need to be prepared to handle a potentially dangerous gun situation.

It is only the beginning of 2019, and there have already been multiple shooting deaths. When there are stories of people being shot at concerts, work, and school, it is hard to not worry about your safety.

When you hear about mass shootings, eyewitnesses have a variety of reactions. Some people run as far away from shots as possible, others seem paralyzed by fear and cannot move, a few even feel the urge to fight against the gunman.

You may have heard of the term fight, flight, freeze when you learn about people in difficult situations. There is a reason why these three responses are the most common reactions to trouble.

If you want to learn a little about human psychology and the best way to protect yourself in an active shooting, read on.

Fight, Flight, Freeze: Animal Origins
Many people reading this may remember learning about fight or flight responses in biology class. When animals are confronted by threats in the wild, there are only a few actions they can take to keep themselves safe.

Some animals may make the split-second decision to fight their way out of a situation and attack. Others may choose to flee and try to get as far away from danger as possible.

Recently, people have noticed fault with this line of reasoning because it leaves out another important defense mechanism: freezing.

It may seem counter-intuitive to stay still when you are facing danger, but plenty of animals do it in the wild. Think about animals that change color or try to blend into their surroundings to avoid being caught.

Fight, Flight, or Freeze In Humans
You may think that humans can only experience fight or flight response in dangerous situations, but many use these responses as a common coping mechanism for anxiety.

You may feel defensive after ruining a big project at work and could yell at your coworkers and place the blame on them to relieve your stress (fight).

When you arrive at a big party and start to feel nervous because you don’t know people there, you may choose to leave because you feel uncomfortable (flight).

You’re caught off guard at work when your boss asks you a question. Instead of answering to the best of your ability, you begin to stutter and blurt out that you don’t know (freeze).

The human body relies on the fight, flight, freeze response to deal with everyday stress to calm feelings of anxiety. Fight or flight can be beneficial for everyday problems, but it can become potentially dangerous during a shooting.

Why We Freeze
Animals freeze when they are in danger, they are doing it for a specific reason. “Playing dead” may deter predators from pursuing them any further. They may have camouflage abilities and staying still could help them work better.

Humans don’t freeze for any specific or practical reason. Most of the time, it comes down to our bias for normalcy.

Our brain learns by analyzing a series of patterns and repetitive behavior. When the typical pattern is interrupted, it takes a long time for the brain to process what is happening.

This can be the reason why many eyewitnesses of mass shootings say it felt like they were in a movie or TV show. The events they saw were so out of the ordinary that their brain had trouble processing what was happening.

Tips for Overcoming Your Freeze Instincts
During an active shooting situation, your body is going to naturally want to respond with a fight, flight, or freeze reaction. But all of those options may not be the best for you.

In most active shooter scenarios, you are going to want to get as far away from the shooter as possible and into a safe environment. We would not recommend confronting a shooter, that could put you in immediate danger.

Fighting a threat is a bad idea, but freezing and doing nothing is the worst possible response you can have. When you freeze, you forget careful emergency planning and act against your best interests.

And unfortunately, freezing is a widespread reaction to a stressful situation.

It can be hard to override your most basic instincts, but you need to do what you can to stay safe and think logically about your options.

If you want to stay safe during a shooter situation and want advice on how to overcome a freeze response, be sure to follow these tips.

Taking a few deep breaths when you’re facing a violent threat could be enough to save your life.

Deep breathing helps keep people relaxed. The extra burst of oxygen can keep you calm, soothe your muscles, and help keep you grounded in the present.

When people get anxious, they tend to take shallow and quick breaths. These short breaths affect oxygen and carbon dioxide levels in the body and can cause an increased heart rate, dizziness, muscle tension, and other physical problems.

As soon as you notice the danger, take time to take a few deep long breaths to calm yourself. This can only take a few seconds but can make all the difference in keeping your calm.

Notice Your Surroundings
Some people freeze and panic because they notice a distinct lack of control in their situation. They’re afraid because they aren’t sure of what to do next, so they do nothing.

Now that you’re grounded and have taken deep breaths take a quick look around you. Note any means of quick escape like doors, windows, and hallways that lead away from the shooter.

Taking note of your surroundings doesn’t just put you in a better situation to escape; it also allows you to take more control of the situation and feel less powerless.

Shift Your Focus
It is easy to freeze when you are focused on adverse outcomes in a situation.

You are scared about personally getting harmed or worried about other people being injured by the shooter. You are preoccupied with the sounds of gunfire and people yelling.

Do not let those feelings and distractions swirl around your head and overcome your thoughts. It is time to shift your focus to your escape and survival.

Empty your head of any thoughts that are not related to your immediate survival. Focus on the best way to escape and get to safety.

Staying Safe in a Dangerous World
The fight, flight, freeze response is a natural way to deal with stress, but that doesn’t mean it’s always the best way. As long as you avoid freezing, you could find your way out of a dangerous situation.

Are you concerned about the safety of your office after reading this post? We don’t blame you if you are.

If you have any concerns about security at your office, contact us today so we can talk about the best way to keep you and your coworkers and employees safe.