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Flight Fight Freeze

My little son started a new habit. Everytime he gets in trouble he covers his ears and takes off running. His little legs try their very best to carry him far, far from trouble. His hands cover his ears, refusing to listen to the warnings or corrections. He can’t seem to see the trouble or realize the danger in his actions. His desire to flee carries him as far from trouble as he can get. He doesn’t know the one who chases him desires to protect him, to love him and give him the best of everything he needs and desires.


Fear

Recently we had a sibling group come to Sparrow House. One of the kids was known as a runner. You know, one of those kids who takes off at every sign of trouble, similarly to my son. Several placements had been lost and they were looking for a new home, hoping to keep the siblings together and find them some stability, but one kid just couldn’t keep themselves from running. One day, we were going to tackle some errands together. As we drove around we talked about her past running episodes and joked back and forth about her running away and where she would go. She realized as we drove that we were just a few miles from their home and her boyfriend's house. I could see the thoughts swirling in her eyes. I mean, who wouldn’t be tempted to run. Their life had been turned upside down and everything taken from them that they knew. She carried fear for her siblings and the future and there, just across the bridge, was all they ever knew. The day went smoothly and, as we were getting ready to leave, all a sudden she disappeared on me. We all began searching the bathrooms and were semi- frantically looking around. Just as I was about to feel a real sense of worry, I looked up and saw her sitting peacefully outside on a curb. I stood there for a few minutes and just watched her out the window. The storm was brewing in her heart and she had gone outside to catch a breath and calm her mind. As I watched her, my only hope and prayer was that God would calm the storm in her heart, give her peace with the past, and hope for the future.


Sometime later a conversation was sparked with my older teens. We were discussing what we would do in some unforeseen, unrealistic situation that threatened our lives. My son, always the hero, would fight his way out. My daughter, quiet and shy, said she wouldn’t be able to do anything, she would just freeze. As I think back on my daughter’s earliest years, I remember her freezing over and over again. At that point in my life I didn’t have the wisdom and understanding that life has now taught me. Often, when we went to church or family gatherings people would speak to her or want a hug. She was always the one who refused to talk or give a hug. She would stand there staring at them, hand’s gathered together, tucked safely under her chin. In my embarrassment I quickly made excuses for her, not understanding the fear she held at the people she didn’t know. I didn’t understand how her anxiety caused her to freeze. In that moment, our conversation opened my heart to understanding my daughter like I never had before.


Sadness

Let’s face it, a lot of us deal with anxiety. There is so much uncertainty in our world that, even under normal circumstances, the whole world seems to be crashing down around us. A basic internet search will give you insight into what the people around you are carrying. It is believed that half of all Americans suffer from an anxiety disorder at some point in their lives, but many never seek treatment. Of those seeking treatment, approximately 33.7 percent of Americans have suffered from an anxiety disorder. There is no wonder why. Inflation, covid, sedative lifestyles, busy schedules, broken relationships, loss of control, loneliness, the hurts of our past and so much more contribute to the thoughts and fears mounting up inside us.


Now take the normal fears and anxieties that we carry and add to it what our kids are carrying. Pain when they think of the things people did to them. Fear that it will happen again. Worthlessness, rejection, despair. Guilt for speaking up. Loss. Abandonment. Uncertainty over the future. I can’t even begin to list the heavy load our kids are carrying.


As caregivers we all want to help. If we didn’t care we wouldn’t have signed up. We want to be a part of the solution. We want to give hope and bring healing. At times it seems so easy to get sucked in. We lose our focus, we fight the wrong battles, and we ourselves feel overwhelmed with anxiety.


Anxiety triggers the “fight-flight-freeze” response in our body. This is an automatic response that affects our thoughts, body, and behaviors. Whenever we feel threatened our thoughts focus on the danger. Our body revs up and we take some kind of action (fight, flight, or freeze) to protect ourselves.


Anxiety

How do we help our kids when our own anxiety is threatening our heart? When everything we seek out to bring us calm doesn’t give us the peace we so desperately need? The answer is Jesus. The amazing thing is that God knows. He knows our anxiety, our fears. He knows our hurts. He knows each one of us (and our kids) so well that He already knows what our response will be to the situations in our lives. He already knows what our fears are and He stands ready to help each one of us.


When we want to run we can remember that God goes before us. Deuteronomy 31:8-9 says, “The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.” Can you believe that? God himself runs before us taking our fears and brokenness. He is ahead of us anticipating our movements, waiting to take us into His arms, give us healing and hold us close until our hearts calm and the storm passes. When we want to fight and our brain tells us there’s danger. When we can’t find the peace we so desperately need, God promises to fight for us. Deuteronomy 20:4 says, “For the Lord your God is the one who goes with you to fight for you against your enemies to give you victory.” When we know someone stronger than we are is fighting for us we can lay our weapons down and rest in the peace that knowledge brings. And when our anxiety becomes so great we can’t even move we can know that God holds us secure. Psalm 32:7 says, “You are my hiding place; You preserve me from trouble; You surround me with songs of deliverance. Our Heavenly Father gently offers us His protection and freedom when we can’t even move. He comes to us and meets us in our need. We can rest within His love and know we are covered in His goodness, kindness and mercy.


We may not always have the answers for our kids. We may not have the resources to calm their anxious hearts and minds, but may we always point them to the One who chases them and desires to protect them. The One who loves them and desires to give them the best of everything they need and desire. And may their hearts find peace with their story so that their anxious hearts may walk in confidence and joy, knowing their story can bring hope to a troubled world.


Leave a comment and share how you handle anxiety and fear in your life.


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