When we are exposed to a physical threat, our bodies automatically gear up to fight or flight (called the fight-flight-freeze response). We become more alert, our heart starts racing, our muscles tense up, we sweat more, and breathe more quickly. These changes are designed to protect us from danger. They help us to run away quickly, fight the “enemy” or freeze to avoid observation.
But sometimes our fight-flight-freeze response is activated when it’s not actually helpful (that is, when there is no actual danger). When people with social anxiety find themselves in a situation where they are worried they will be judged, their fight-flight-freeze response is triggered, and they might have some or all of these sensations:
- Racing heart
- Dizziness or feeling faint
- Sweating or hot flushes
- Trembling or shaking
- Mind going ‘blank’
- Nausea or butterflies in the stomach