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Common Responses

Whānau and Friends

Stress Responses: The Four Fs


Difficult experiences can impact us in different ways. Our bodies and minds have automatic stress responses to trauma, often referred to as “fight or flight”. Following a stressful experience, someone may feel unsafe in certain environments or at certain times. Sometimes this generalises to many or all environments. 


Understanding what we’re experiencing can help us cope with these responses when they happen.


Fight or flight are well known stress responses, but there are two more common responses called freeze and fawn. Here are some ways you may experience these stress responses in day to day life:


Fight                                                                                          Freeze

Angry outburst                                                                           Brain fog

Crying                                                                                        Feeling stiff and tense

Stomach feels tied in knot                                                         Feel a sense of dread



Flight                                                                                          Fawn 

Feeling restless or fidgety                                                           Avoiding conflict

Sensation of numbness                                                              Wanting to please people

Feeling trapped                                                                           Putting other needs before your own 



How are you feeling?

Your feelings are valid


Sexual harm/violence can happen to anyone and it impacts people in many different ways. Below are some common feelings survivors have shared with us - you may feel lots of them, some of them, or none of them. These feelings might come all at once, at different times, or just when you are in certain situations. Whatever you are experiencing, your feelings are valid. There is no ‘correct way’ to feel after experiencing sexual harm/violence.


No matter the circumstances, it was not your fault and you deserve support


Common feelings                                                                                        Common reactions

Fear, anxiety, and confusion                                                         Disorientation and dissociation

Shock, disbelief, and denial                                                          Difficulty concentrating

​​Anger and rage                                                                             Changes to appetite

Depression, powerlessness and hopelessness                            Sleep disruptions and nightmares

​​Embarrassment, guilt, shame, humiliation                                    Avoidance

Simple grounding techniques can help you cope when experiencing a stress response. Different coping methods work for different people, we have included some that our clients find helpful here:

However you are feeling, you deserve support.


If you need immediate support, call our 24/7 support line on 0800 FOR HELP and press 0 at the menu to talk to someone.

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