Tasha shrugs, unconvinced. “I don’t know…Something must be wrong with me. I react to everything. And I yell back at my coworkers whenever someone says something mean to me—I can’t help it.”
You nod understandingly. “Since you’ve reached your stress limit, your body is perceiving these things as stressful. Have you heard the phrase ‘fight or flight’?”
She shifts in her seat. “Um, I think I have, maybe?”
“‘Fight or flight’ is our body’s way to respond to stress. It’s like there’s a fire alarm in our brain that activates every time there is a threat.”
You fix your eyes on her face even though she is looking down. “So if you were crossing a street, and all of a sudden out of nowhere, a car is coming straight towards you, what are you gonna do?”
She perks up and says, “I will…jump away from the car, probably?”
You smile and exclaim, “Exactly! And you would respond immediately, right? You don’t have to think about it. This is what ‘fight or flight’ is for—it protects us from real threats. And there is a third option: to freeze. It happens sometimes when you get so scared and so stressed that your body kind of just shuts down. It can’t react at all.”
“Oh, okay,” Tasha is thinking all of this over.
“Any of these responses can happen, depending on what the situation calls for. But once ‘fight or flight’ is turned on, it can be hard to turn off, because it is an automatic response.”
“Does it ever switch off?” she asks.
You reassure her, “Yes. Normally once the car is gone, your body calms down, and ‘fight or flight’ turns off. But stressors that are too traumatic, last for too long, or are too plentiful can activate the fight-or-flight response for too long.”
Tasha whispers, “That’s what happened to me.”
You smile sadly and nod as you answer, “Yes. Your fight-or-flight response is constantly activated, and it’s convincing your body that you should react to everything around you like it is a threat.”