red blocks that say ''panic' against a blue background to denote the flight-fight-freeze response

So fun story – our primitive minds can override our biological processes that help us sleep. The flight-fight-freeze (F3) response is an ingrained response to imminent danger that was instilled in us many millennia ago1. It’s actually a pretty neat system that creates an automatic response that not only protects us from threat and danger, but has also helped humans survive. 

That F3 was a great thing when we had to be on high alert for sabertooth tigers when we didn’t have proper shelter. Even now, have you ever thought “I’m going to cross the street” and something in you stopped you suddenly, only for a car to whiz by where you would have been?

This is our F3 alarm to protect us before our conscious mind can even reason out what to do. These are the types of situations where a heightened level of anxiety really works in our favour. 

When Flight-Fight-Freeze Interrupts Sleep

When it becomes a problem is when our minds react like there’s a life or death danger. But in reality, we’re simply anxious about a non-imminent threat.

There are many examples of this – like when you freeze during a presentation. Or leave a party because you’re deeply uncomfortable in crowds (flight). Or you become uncontrollably angry when someone says something that pushes your buttons just right (fight). It triggers a whole host of physical responses like rapid heart beat, sweaty palms, cold hands and feet, and more2.  

If you get anxious enough about sleep, the alarm bells will go off. Even if you’re not thinking about anything in particular, your body is responding with an F3 emergency alert. Your heart starts racing, your muscles tense, and your palms are cold and clammy. Then your sleep is interrupted anyway since that F3 alarm causes stress hormones which make you have to pee.

Funny How the Mind Works

You can be lying there in a warm, cozy bed. If someone were to walk into your room, they would see you’re just lying there in a warm cozy bed. There’s no immediate threat. Yet your brain is reacting that is far more appropriate for when you confront a bear on a hike.

In the tools you will be implementing this week, I will share a few methods to override the flight-fight-freeze F3 alarm. That way, your biology has some space to do what it needs to do to get you to sleep.