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The Freeze State

evolution freeze state mindfulness self compassion trauma response Jul 23, 2023

One of the barriers to feeling peace and joy in life is that our bodies have an evolutionary mechanism called the freeze state. Have you ever found yourself paralyzed by fear or overwhelmed by stress, unable to take action or make decisions? This state of emotional and mental "freeze" can be debilitating and hinder daily life, relationships, and personal growth. With the right strategies, you can learn to thaw the frozen mind and body, and regain control of your thoughts, emotions, and actions. Lets explore some effective techniques to help you break free from the freeze state and move forward.

Recognize the Freeze Response

The first step in overcoming the freeze state is to recognize it when it occurs. The freeze state, also known as the "freeze response," is one of the natural survival mechanisms exhibited by humans and many animals when faced with threatening or overwhelming situations. It is a part of the "fight-or-flight-or-freeze" response to perceived danger. While the "fight" response involves confronting the threat, and the "flight" response involves escaping from it, the "freeze" response entails an immobilization or temporary paralysis of physical and mental activity.

When an individual experiences the freeze state, their body and mind enter a state of heightened alertness. Physiologically, the sympathetic nervous system triggers the release of stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol, preparing the body for immediate action. However, unlike the fight or flight responses, the freeze state involves a temporary shutdown of the body's motor and cognitive functions.

During this state, a person may feel emotionally overwhelmed, unable to think clearly or make decisions. They may experience a sense of being stuck, helpless, or numb. The freeze state is characterized by a feeling of being "frozen" in time, unable to move forward or take action.

The freeze response is evolutionarily adaptive, as it can serve as a survival mechanism in situations where confronting or escaping from a threat might be more dangerous than remaining still. For example, in the face of a predator, some animals may freeze to avoid detection. In humans, the freeze response can be triggered in various threatening situations, including traumatic experiences, high-stress environments, or situations involving social anxiety.

While the freeze response can be protective in the short term, prolonged or frequent experiences of this state can have negative consequences on an individual's well-being. It can lead to a sense of powerlessness, anxiety, and difficulties in coping with challenging situations.

Recognizing the freeze state and implementing psychological strategies to address it, can help individuals regain control over their thoughts, emotions, and actions, allowing them to navigate challenging circumstances more effectively and move towards a more empowered and fulfilling life.

 Generate Self Compassion

When we actively treat ourselves with kindness, and generate nurturing and understanding thoughts about our situation and struggles, we activate soothing mechanisms our brain and our body. Treating ourselves in an emotionally safe way rather than being self critical or letting automatic negative thoughts about ourselves take control is one of the best ways of getting through a freeze state.

Practice Mindfulness

Mindfulness is an important tool to ground yourself in the present moment and ease the effects of the freeze response. When you find yourself frozen, take a deep breath and focus on your senses. Observe the environment around you, the sounds you hear, and the sensations in your body. Mindfulness helps you detach from anxious thoughts and brings you back to a calmer state.

Challenge Negative Thoughts

Often, the freeze state is accompanied by a flood of negative thoughts and self-doubt. Challenge these thoughts by asking yourself if they are realistic or if they are magnifying the situation. Replace them with more balanced and empowering affirmations. Remember, thoughts are not facts, and you have the power to reshape them.

Take Small Steps

When you feel frozen, the idea of taking action might be daunting. Instead of pressuring yourself to make significant changes all at once, focus on taking everyday small steps. Break down your goals into manageable tasks, and start with one simple action. Give yourself credit for each small success, even if it's something as simple as drinking enough water, as these small steps will help you gain momentum and confidence.

Prioritize Self-Care

Practicing self-care is crucial for maintaining emotional resilience and reducing the occurrence of the freeze state. Engage in activities that bring you joy, relaxation, and rejuvenation. Prioritize adequate sleep, balanced nutrition, and regular exercise to support your emotional well-being. 

Utilize Visualization Techniques

Visualization can be an important tool to unfreeze your mind and prepare yourself for challenging situations. Imagine yourself successfully navigating through difficult circumstances. Imagine things going right, or being safe. Visualize the steps you need to take and how you will handle obstacles. This mental rehearsal can boost your confidence and readiness to face real challenges. 

Get support

Don't be afraid to reach out for support from friends, family, or a mental health professional. Talking about your freeze state can provide valuable insights and encouragement. Professional guidance can offer tailored strategies and interventions to help you address deeper emotional issues that may be contributing to the freeze response.


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