It is my current understanding that cortisol is released 20-30 minutes after the initial release of adrenaline to a stressor if the stressor has not been dealt with. (Source: '20 - 30 minutes' and 'a few minutes' and Approximately 15 minutes after the onset of stress, cortisol levels rise systemically and remain elevated for several hours)

Cortisol's role when an acute fight-flight response becomes chronically activated or prolonged is to:

  1. Maintain the fight-flight response to help deal with the stressor, while also regulating the side-effects associated with the response.
  2. Regulates and enhances the use of glucose/energy
  3. Reduces inflammation during acute stress, but during chronic stress it suppresses the immune system (my textbook does not explain why, I'm pretty sure it's because of cortisol resistence developed)

However, my question is what happens when the freeze response becomes chronically activated? What hormones are secreted, does it have relevance to the general adaptation syndrome?

Source: Textbooks for Psychology for an Australian High School education certificate:

Psychology for VCE Units 3 and 4, 8th Edition Jacaranda

  • $\begingroup$ First of all, welcome to Psychology.SE. Just out of interest, what textbook are you reading? Adding info like this into your question along with any other places where you learnt, say, that cortisol is released 20-30 minutes after the initial release of adrenaline to a stressor if the stressor has not been dealt with can help others to learn more and adds usefulness to your question, adding possibly of up votes. 🙂 $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 17, 2023 at 6:38
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks I have edited the original question. $\endgroup$
    – charl2.718
    Commented Feb 17, 2023 at 7:46

1 Answer 1


The "fight-flight-freeze" response is not a list of three responses, it's a name for one, general hyperarousal response.

Often it was simply called "fight or flight" response, which is catchy, brief, and rhymed. However, it's been recognized that the same underlying condition of hyperarousal in response to threat is also associated with other behaviors like freezing (especially in small prey animals, like rodents), so the name "fight or flight" may be misleading.

So, to answer your question about the role of cortisol in the freeze response, you can use the same information you've found for "fight or flight", because "fight or flight" and "fight-flight-freeze" are two names for the same thing.

  • $\begingroup$ Oh, tysm!! I thought it would have some differences because fight-flight is sympathetic dominance whereas the freeze response is parasympathetic dominance. $\endgroup$
    – charl2.718
    Commented Feb 16, 2023 at 19:56
  • $\begingroup$ @charl2.718 "Freeze" in response to danger is not parasympathetic. Parasympathetic is more like resting to digest a meal. Freezing is not resting or relaxing. $\endgroup$
    – Bryan Krause
    Commented Feb 16, 2023 at 19:59
  • $\begingroup$ According to my course, freeze has parasympathetic dominance. "Freezing, a state of parasympathetic dominance." - ncbi "The sympathetic nervous system instigates the fight or flight response whilst the parasympathetic stimulates the freeze response" $\endgroup$
    – charl2.718
    Commented Feb 16, 2023 at 20:04
  • $\begingroup$ @charl2.718 Hmm, it appears you are right and I should not have said "freezing is not parasympathetic", but I think it's important to note that the freezing response also involves sympathetic activity. "Parasympathetic dominance" seems to be limited to some aspects of the freezing response, like heart rate changes, but not others. $\endgroup$
    – Bryan Krause
    Commented Feb 16, 2023 at 20:13
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Yeah. Also, about the original question my textbook states that "Cortisol acts more slowly and its effects are longer lasting than the other stress hormones. This helps keep the body at an elevated level of arousal, even after the fight-or-flight-or-freeze response, thereby allowing the body to continue to deal with stress for a longer period." I thought that prolonged cortisol release meant a prolonged activation of the fight-flight-freeze response - if you are experiencing chronic stress you are experiencing a chronically activated fight-flight-freeze response, it doesn't turn off $\endgroup$
    – charl2.718
    Commented Feb 16, 2023 at 23:02

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