Chronic fatigue & the flight/fight/freeze response

 

The fight/flight/freeze response seems connected with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS). It may be chronically activated and connected with many of the typical symptoms of CFS.

Although this is well-known in the CFS world, we don’t many specifics or the why or how or what to do about it.

When the flight/fight/freeze (FFF) response is activated…..

The eyes dilate. Light sensitivity is typical for CFS.

The heart works harder. Faster, stronger, and sometimes irregular heartbeat is relatively common for CFS.

Digestion is inhibited. Many with CFS have digestive problems.

Sexual function is reduced. Again, common in CFS.

There is heightened sensitivity to any stimuli. Hypersensitivity to sound, movement (around us), and chemicals is typical for CFS.

Higher cognitive functions are reduced. The body’s resources are used for more immediate concerns. Reduced higher cognitive function (executive functions) is a core symptom of CFS.

Sleep has low priority and the FFF response counteracts sleep. Sleep problems of all sorts are common with CFS. (Difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, and don’t feel refreshed after sleep.)

Sweat secretion is activated. Increased sweating and cold sweat is common with CFS. As is temperature dysregulation.

There is less blood to the skin and kidneys. People with CFS often have white spots in the hands and fingers. I wonder if that’s connected to reduced blood flow? (Also, in Vortex Healing, weak and infected kidneys is one of the first things they work on.)

And finally, if the FFF response is chronically activated, you’d expect to see fatigue. And that’s another core symptom of CFS.

More in general, while the flight and fight response seems chronically active and may account for many of the symptoms, the condition also looks a lot like freeze (need for rest, isolation, etc.).

How can we make use of knowing about the FFF / CFS connection?

For me, it helps me feel less weird. I see that many of my symptoms make sense in the light of a chronically activated FFF response.

And anything that reduces the FFF response is helpful, like mindfulness, gentle yoga, and (skilled, gradual) work on stressful thoughts and underlying trauma.

This also explains why therapeutic tremoring has helped many with CFS. By releasing chronic tension and trauma out of the system, the chronic FFF response relaxes a bit and this helps the system recover and function more normally.

When it comes to the modality I currently find most helpful (Vortex Healing), I plan to focus more on my FFF response.

Why do we see a FFF / CFS connection? I am not sure. CFS often follows an infection like mononucleosis. I wonder if the body’s response to the infection somehow leads to a chronically active FFF response?

Note: I intentionally used the more broad FFF term as I didn’t want to focus too much on any single component of it. FFF involves more than any single system in our bodies and far more than what we currently are aware of. For instance, there is this recent article about the role of the bones in FFF: Bone, not adrenaline, drives fight or flight response.

Update December 2019: I just found an article on possible damage to the brain stem in people with CFS/ME. This is very interesting and can explain why the flight/fight/freeze response is chronically active for many with CFS. A virus and/or inflammation may have damaged the brain stem, which in turn causes the FFF response to be chronically “on”.

Update April 2020: Something felt off in the way I looked at flight/fight/freeze and CFS and I felt I was missing something. What I was missing was a fourth way of responding: fold. It seems that CFS is more connected with the fold response. It’s one way of folding.

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