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Stress and the Brain: To Fight, Flee or Freeze -That is the Question

(Editor’s note: below you have the final part of the 6-part Stress and the Brain series. If you are join­ing the series now, you can read the pre­vi­ous parts via the links below.)

Stayin’ Alive

Under­stand­ing the Human Brain and How It Responds to Stress

TO FIGHT, FLEE, OR FREEZE — THAT IS THE QUESTION

With a bet­ter under­stand­ing of the neu­ro­bi­ol­o­gy of stress, the LD — ADHD — stress con­nec­tion becomes clear.  Stu­dents with learn­ing dis­abil­i­ties or ADHD, con­front­ed with the stress cre­at­ed by expo­sure to tasks that are in real­i­ty or in their per­cep­tion too dif­fi­cult (and thus threat­en­ing), exhib­it the pro­tec­tive behav­ior of any organ­ism under extreme stress:  They fight, they flee, or they freeze. When these kids don’t under­stand why they can’t do what oth­er kids can do (mas­ter the stres­sor), and they can’t see any way to get out of a sit­u­a­tion that won’t go away, they begin to shut down. Trapped in this sit­u­a­tion, from which there is no appar­ent exit, they may lash out with words or fists.  They may tear up papers, throw books, or over­turn desks.  As much as they love their teacher, they may bite the hand that feeds them.  If they over­ride their impulse to act up or act out to escape the stress caused by a feel­ing of cog­ni­tive incom­pe­tence, these kids may freeze like the prover­bial deer in the head­lights.

Full 6-part Series on Stress and the Brain, excerpt­ed from Nowhere to Hide: Why Kids with ADHD and LD Hate School and What We Can Do About It:

Jerome SchultzJerome J. Schultz, Ph.D., the Author of Nowhere to Hide: Why Kids with ADHD and LD Hate School and What We Can Do About It (Jossey-Bass; August 2011), is a clin­i­cal neu­ropsy­chol­o­gist and is on the fac­ulty of Har­vard Med­ical School in the Depart­ment of Psy­chi­a­try. He served until recent­ly as the Co-Direc­tor of the Cen­ter for Child and Ado­les­cent Devel­op­ment, CCAD, a mul­ti-dis­ci­pli­nary diag­nos­tic and treat­ment clin­ic which is a ser­vice of the Cam­bridge Health Alliance, a Har­vard Teach­ing Hos­pi­tal.

Relat­ed arti­cles:

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