Might: Spiritual, organizational, personal and positional sources and resources are appropriately used to make decisions and develop people

Understanding The Five Stress Related Responses

As an Executive Pastor I became well acquainted with my own stress related responses as well as of those I worked with. I observed that under stress we tend to choose one of five courses of action: Fight, Flight, Flock, Freeze, or Appease. These approaches can be observed in tense meetings, confrontations, conversations…..any anxiety inducing circumstance. Often we have a preferred “go to” response, but typically we will rely on all five over the course of time. Let’s take a quick look at how these five responses to stress manifest themselves.

The Five Stress Related Responses

Studies show that most of our stress related responses can be attributed to brain chemistry and to some extent, personality. In other words, God hard-wired these instincts into humans to protect us. Unfortunately, we can often be tricked into using an instinct when presented with a situation that is not actually threatening or harmful. And, some stress related responses can create a “high feeling” and we can become trapped in that behavior. But, each stress response instinct serves a purpose. The challenge is to use the right response at the right time. Understanding each stress related response is the first step in responding appropriately.

Fight Response: Humans have a fight response so they are ready to respond if attacked or threatened. Common social stress related fight behaviors include:

  • becoming overly competitive
  • becoming overly argumentative
  • assuming body language that makes you appear strong and intimidating
  • overly preparing for an anxiety-provoking event like a presentation or speech
  • snapping at people

Flight Response: Humans have a flight instinct so when presented with a harmful situation they can keep themselves safe. Common social stress related flight behaviors include:

  • abruptly leaving the room or the meeting
  • giving an excuse to leave early from stress-provoking conversations
  • changing the subject of the conversation
  • pretending to take a phone call or having another appointment
  • stopping an activity that is stressful

Flock Response: Humans have a flock instinct because there is protection in numbers. Common social stress related flock behaviors include:

  • forming a clique
  • groupthink
  • us versus them polarization
  • taking sides
  • joining a gang

Freeze Response: Humans have a freeze instinct so not to be detected in a dangerous situation, to allow time to make a decision or provide an opportunity to escape. Common social stress related freeze behaviors include:

  • clamming up
  • blanking out
  • fainting
  • speechlessness
  • not drawing attention to oneself

Appease Response: Humans have an appease instinct so to make peace, agree, or go along when outmanned, threatened or in situations that appear hopeless. Common social stress related appease behaviors include:

  • going along with the crowd
  • siding with the majority
  • agreeing with an adversary
  • making nice with the boss

The Sixth Stress Related Response Option

There is a sixth stress related response option to Fight, Flight, Flock, Freeze, and Appease…..Fortify. Like eating properly, taking vitamins and exercising regularly fortifies our body against stress, we can fortify ourselves spiritually for the inevitable difficult times. When spiritually fortified, we can choose how to respond instead of simply reacting, and our choices are wiser, more Christ-like, and come from a healthier, more self-aware posture. Fortitude is another word for courage. Common fortify behaviors include:

  • connecting to a community can fortify us with the support and the compassionate challenge and insights of others
  • identifying stress and anxiety inducing thoughts and situations and grounding them in reality
  • relaxing by taking deep breaths
  • getting help when situations become too intense or overwhelming
  • praying without ceasing
  • meditating on Holy Scripture:

Isaiah 41:10 – “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”

I Chronicles 28:20 – “Be strong and courageous, and do the work. Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the LORD God, my God, is with you. He will not fail you or forsake you.

Psalm 56:3-4 – When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. In God, whose word I praise— in God I trust and am not afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?”

Psalm 27:1 – The LORD is my light and my salvation— whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life— of whom shall I be afraid?”

2 Timothy 1:7 – “For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.”






Posted on July 7, 2020

Jim Baker

Jim is a Church Organizational Leadership and Management Coach, Consultant and Trainer. Throughout his career Jim has demonstrated a passion for showing Pastors and Ministers how to use organizational tools for church and personal growth and health.

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“For I may be absent in body, but I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see how well ordered you are and the strength of your faith in Christ.” Colossians 2:5