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Fight, Flight, or Freeze? Recognize and remediate, then test with success. Adapted from Michael Perrin, BA, MAEd. What the heck IS anxiety?. Fight / Flight/Freeze:  A response to Stressors. HELP!!!!!!!.

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fight flight or freeze recognize and remediate then test with success

Fight, Flight, or Freeze?Recognize and remediate, then test with success.

Adapted from Michael Perrin, BA, MAEd

what the heck is anxiety
What the heck IS anxiety?

Fight /


 A response to Stressors

  • The body gears up to either fight or flee a perceived danger. It is an ancient survival mechanism.
  • Think about surviving in the wild – you would NEED to fight or run or freeze to camouflage yourself if your life were in danger. But sometimes, this response overtakes us when we don’t really need it.
5 4 3 2
5, 4, 3, 2, . . .

The sympathetic nervous system gets the body ready for action! You need…

  • your muscles ready to move out of danger quickly,
  • your brain on high alert,
  • your eyes on high alert, and
  • plenty of air to power it all.

So here’s what happens…

what s happening to me
What’s happening to me????
  • heart rate increases
  • blood pressure rises
  • breathing rate increases
  • blood is routed to brain and muscles
  • pupils dilate to increase vision
  • muscles tense up
  • Body heats up; sweat reduces heat
  • GI tract slows
  • endorphins flood the brain
can t do it
Can’t do it!!!

Unfortunately, the fight/flight/freeze response to stressors can also impede performance:

stage fright

“choking” feeling

general irritability

difficulty with making decisions

reflexes on edge - hitting someone when they startle you

this too shall pass
This, too, shall pass.

The f/f/f(fight/flight/freeze)

response is meant to be


just long enough to get you

out of danger.

Your body needs time to recover from the response.

okay i get it now what do i do to get rid of it
Okay, I get it…Now what do I do to get rid of it?

Here is the most important step toward reducing your anxiety –

recognize it!

remember a little energy is good but
Remember, a little energy is good, but…

Check externally to see if what you feel is common:

Do you feel cold or hot? Are others putting on or taking off jackets or sweaters?

Is everyone else looking around like they can’t figure out what’s going on?

Do your muscles feel weak?

Is your heart racing?

okay i checked
Okay, I checked.
  • I feel hot, but no one else seems to.
  • Or . . . my hand is actually shaking when I pick up my pencil.
  • Or . . . the test seems to be written in a language other than one I know.
  • Or . . .my heart’s racing, and there’s nobody good-looking sitting nearby!
You’ve diagnosed yourself, and you are truly anxious!NOW you can do what we PLANNED to do in this case!You’re prepared!


first stop testing and fix yourself
First, stop testing and fix yourself.

Your neurotransmitters are firing off, responding to the threat of bombing this test. They’re telling your body to go into survival mode…and you need to stop them!

The good news is, they start quickly and so can be stopped quickly.

do you actually hear yourself panicking
Do you actually hear yourself panicking?
  • I can’t do this!
  • No, this is not the right test!
  • Help me!
  • I can’t do it!
  • I’m going to fail!
use a thought stopper
Use a thought-stopper.

To stop your thoughts in the classroom or during a test, silently shout to yourself "Stop!" or "Stop thinking about that!"

You may have to ”shout” to yourself several times during a test to control negative self-talk.

After every shout, use a different relaxation technique at your desk.

how does that work
How does that work?

Thought stopping works, because it interrupts the worry response before it escalates to cause high anxiety or negative emotions.

Students with high worry anxiety should practice this technique three days to one week before taking a test.

that s the first and simplest thing to try if you actually hear yourself
That’s the first and simplest thing to try . . . IF you actually hear yourself.


If you don’t hear that internal monologue, then try the next step . . .

move without moving much
Move! (without moving much)
  • Ask to sharpen your pencil, or get a tissue, or pretend to throw away some trash.
  • If you are taking a timed test, you want to avoid leaving the room. So try the next few activities in your seat.
i can t leave the room that s okay
I can’t leave the room!That’s okay.

Put down your test materials and do the turtle:

  • Make a safe little shell by crossing your arms in a kind of self-embrace, pulling into yourself, and hanging your head down.
  • Pull your legs in a bit, too.
  • Hold for 15 seconds.
  • Know your shell is protecting you.
  • Lift your head a moment to check things out.
  • Do 3 or 4 times.
now lay your head down on the desk or table
Now lay your head down on the desk or table.

Time yourself – 2 or 3 minutes, no less.

Feel better? Raise up and take your test.

didn t work
Didn’t work?

Still feeling

panicked or shut


Try one of the next


tense and relax
Tense and Relax

Put your feet flat on the floor.

Take side edges of your chair with your hands.

Pull up as strongly as you can while breathing in. Count to five.

Let go, breathing out and allowing your arms, legs, and middle to relax.

Do it one or two more times.

Return to your test.

relaxed breathing
Relaxed Breathing
  • Use relaxed breathing to calm yourself.
  • Take your attention away from the task and take a few slow breaths.
  • Say to yourself, “calm and relaxed” as you exhale.
  • Practice relaxed breathing before AND during an exam.
calming palming
Calming Palming
  • Close and cover your eyes using the center of the palms of your hands.
  • Prevent your hands from touching your eyes by resting the lower parts of your palms on your cheekbones and placing your fingers on your forehead.  Your eyeballs must not be touched, rubbed or handled in any way.
calming palming continued
Calming Palming, continued

Think of a real or imaginary relaxing scene. Mentally visualize this scene. Picture the scene as if you were actually there, looking through your own eyes.

Visualize your relaxing scene for one to two minutes.

Gently open your eyes, and try your test again.

golden sunlight1
Golden sunlight

Close your eyes.

Imagine the sun gently warming you.

Let your muscles relax as they absorb the warmth.

Feel your arms and legs lengthen as they warm and relax.

Feel yourself breathing slowly and evenly; every muscle is relaxing, lengthening, under the warmth of the sun.

When ready, open your eyes and return to your test.

wrap up
Wrap Up

Anxiety is a normal response to what seems dangerous.

Fight/flight/freeze just doesn’t work so well for testing.

Learn to recognize your own symptoms of anxiety.

Practice strategies to interrupt your survival response and calm your body down.

congratulations you re ready to succeed on the test
Congratulations! You’re ready to succeed on the test!

Mr. Perrin reports that his student scores increased nearly 20% on major tests after he started teaching anxiety reduction as part of his general curriculum.