Fight, Flight, Freeze, or Fawn… Which One Are You Stuck In? FREEZE (Part 3 of 4)

by | Apr 18, 2022 | Emotional Pillar

For the third part of my series of four responses to stress, we are going to learn about the freeze stress response. When we are responding to stress or perceived threat by freezing, it can look and feel like…being stiff like a statue, being able to hear your heart pound, having a decreased heart rate, or experiencing the blood draining from your face (getting pale). People often describe freezing to feel like they have lead weights in their shoes and literally cannot move.

Do you remember playing hide-and-go-seek as a kid and being the one hiding? Remember how still you could suddenly be when hiding from the “predator,” the seeker who was “hunting” or looking for you? Your muscles tightened and stiffened, eyes widened, heartbeat sounds were so loud that you may have feared the seeker could hear it, and you didn’t dare budge. This is the freeze response.

We often find this as a go-to stress response for people who have had a lot of trauma in their lives. Often women who have experienced abuse get secondarily abused when law enforcement asks questions like, “Why didn’t you do something? Why didn’t you run away?” But when we are in the freeze state, we cannot run or move or fight. Freeze is an extraordinarily valid stress response, and we see it in the animal kingdom when animals under attack play dead or hide and remain very still. Hiding and freezing from a predator can be a highly effective way of keeping ourselves safe.

If freeze is your stress response, and you’re reading this, you won. You survived. You’re still here! You did it! Many times, especially in sexual assault, you or first responders will ask why you didn’t do something… Please understand that YOU DID! You survived, and you did it by freezing. The only goal of your brain was to keep you alive, and in that moment it did so by shutting everything down.

Like each of the four stress responses, though, we do not want to remain in freeze mode. We want to support our bodies to move through these responses. We do not want to stay frozen or stuck in the inability to move forward. For those with the inclination to freeze, decisions big and small can sometimes be crippling.

I have two simple tools to access the next time you find yourself freezing.

  1. Deep breathing. Like with any of our stress responses, if we can show our body, through deep breaths, that we are ok, our bodies will understand and respond by deactivating that stress response. Breathe in 5 seconds, hold 5 seconds, exhale for 5 seconds. Repeat this as many times as you need.
  2. Move your body. Literally any movement—take a walk, dance, do jumping jacks, run up and down stairs, etc. This signals to your body that you are safe and ok to move forward. If you find that this is all too much in the moment, move a body part, even if it’s a small movement, or recite multiplication tables in your head.
  3. Recite to yourself, “I am safe in my movements”.
As with any of these stress responses, when we find ourselves in repeated habits, we must dig deep and address where it started…the root cause. This can be hard work, but healing trauma is always worth it. Reach out for support or to schedule a session with me to create a personalized plan for yourself.

Related Posts

Triggers

Triggers

"Oh, that triggered me!" Does that sound along the lines of something you've said before? If so, you're in the right place. I love teaching people ways to shift their philosophy when others cross potentially unknown boundaries. To start, I want to explain what a...

Victim vs. Victory

Victim vs. Victory

This blog does include a story of an individual's trauma and how they have healed from it Hello, everyone! Today, I wanted to talk about a topic I like to call victim versus victory. I have helped patients process a lot of trauma in my office over the years. The...

Anxiety vs Depression

Anxiety vs Depression

Hello, hello! Today, I wanted to talk to you about anxiety and depression! While they can feel similar at times, and many state to have both, they are two different emotions. Anxiety is a nervous disorder with feelings of excessive uneasiness and apprehension,...