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:
Angry outburst Brain fog
Crying Feeling stiff and tense
Stomach feels tied in knot Feel a sense of dread
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: