How To Control Your Limbic System's Fight Or Flight Response And Gain Strength During The COVID-19 Crisis

When we're not freaked out and hyper-reactive, we can choose the most appropriate way to respond.

How To Control Your Limbic System's Fight Or Flight Response And Gain Strength During The COVID-19 Crisis Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

We are living in strange and uncharted times.

Our genetic programming is to be on alert when we enter unknown territory.

The ancestral aspect of our brain, our limbic system, or reptilian brain, is designed to keep us safe from predators and other dangers. But we are not only primitive organisms. We are complex people, who also have a deeply spiritual side.

One of our gifts as humans is that, when we are not freaked out and hyper-reactive, we can choose the most appropriate way to respond to a situation.


There is a profound difference between being reactive and responsive.

The reactive mind sees a shadow, fears the lion, and jumps.

The responsive mind can assess whether the shadow is, in effect, a lion or not. It has the capacity to hold a higher perspective and act accordingly.

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In fact, we hold a number of aspects of ourselves in our psyches, but the main ones that are reactive are related to our survival instincts of freeze, fight or flight.

Let’s look at these aspects in terms of how people are reacting unhealthily to the current coronavirus crisis.

There are people who've become immobilized due to fear.

They are collapsing psychically, and effectively reverting to babyhood, crying and complaining and hoping others will take care of them. Just as a baby can’t take care of themselves, these people feel helpless and move into freeze mode.

Then there are people who are fighting for their own survival at the expense of all others.


They are freaking out by hoarding all supplies, buying up copious amounts of toilet paper and masks, preparing for the apocalypse but thinking only of their own personal survival. They childishly protect their inner vulnerability by blaming others for their situation. These people feel that if they don’t fight, they will be lost and not survive.

And of course, there are those people who are simply running from the reality of the situation.

They feel so overwhelmed that all they want to do is escape their situation. They avoid the reality of the situation by partying, drinking, or using other habitual avoidance techniques. They are reverting to the inner child who just wants to escape and play. These people are in flight mode.

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Now let’s understand those who are not reactive, but rather responding in a healthy manner to the crisis.

The mature adult can assess the situation and frame it in a global sense. They understand the ramifications of the crisis, how it started and what to do to cope with it as effectively as possible.

These are the people who are doing what needs to be done responsibly.

They are washing their hands appropriately, practicing self-care, self-isolating, and doing what is necessary for the best possible outcome for themselves and others.

Those who are coming from their Higher, Conscious or Spiritual Self are responding to the crisis from a wider, deeper perspective.


They are choosing not to buy into panic, and to limit their exposure to fear-inducing media. They are acutely aware that this crisis highlights our interconnectedness with everything and everyone on the planet.

They are practicing self-care by eating healthily, going for walks in nature, reaching out compassionately to friends and loved ones, as well as taking the time for restorative exercise, rest, quiet time, and spiritual retreat.

As we negotiate this health and economic crisis we can take this unprecedented time as an opportunity for growth.


Instead of contracting into our childish selves, we can breathe deeply and support and nourish ourselves and others and focus on healing our bodies, minds and souls.

Since we are all interconnected — part of the same being — we can hold steady to our higher consciousness and hold each other and the world with love, care and compassion, praying for the betterment of all.

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Lorell Frysh, Ph.D., is a transpersonal psychologist, teacher, and author​ based in Atlanta.