If you respond by freezing

We normally talk about fear in terms of flight or fight responses. There are a lot of things we have evolved to deal with either by trying to punch them or trying to run away. However, in some circumstances, there’s a third response available – freezing. It’s less talked about and can be more confusing. Terrible things are happening and you just shut down, and do nothing.

Freezing is what we do when we’re overwhelmed. It’s a response to situations in which there is nothing we can physically fight off, and nowhere to run to. Unsurprisingly, a lot of people are experiencing freeze in response to the virus.

If you can’t focus your mind, can’t figure out what to do, are panic-scrolling on Twitter, half asleep all the time or feeling distanced from everything, this is the process you are in. Rest, time and distraction will help you move past it. This is a natural and reasonable response. It may feel confusing right now, but the answer is to be gentle with yourself and wait it out.

People who have already experienced trauma can find they are prone to freezing responses. Brutal lessons about your own powerlessness will do this to a person.

Hopefully there is a lesson we can all learn here for the longer term. Freezing is a normal response to being powerless. It is why many victims of violence, and especially of rape, do not fight back or manage to escape. Sometimes our bodies just shut down – it can have a protective function, helping us mentally distance ourselves from traumatic things. Understanding how this works will help us be more compassionate with ourselves, and with each other.

About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, polyamourous animist, ant-fash, anti-capitalist, bisexual steampunk. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

7 responses to “If you respond by freezing

  • Helen Bell

    I agree – freezing is less understood but is very debilitating as I know from experience. Thanks for talking about this:)

  • IntroducingMe

    Not so much my response to the current COVID-19 pandemic, however I am normally very much a freeze response. My anxiety means I get overwhelmed easily, and so my body’s natural defence is to shut down and hide internally until I can deal with it or it’s over.

    Did you know there is also a fourth response? Appeasing is the very, very unknown defence mechanism, which simply put is trying to please the threat so that it leaves you alone.

  • Content Catnip

    I really feel like this. Unable to focus, unable to function or work, everything is confusing, irritating and worrying me in response to the virus. This helps me to realise it’s not just me feeling this way

  • Content Catnip

    I love your blog by the way, I have followed you. I hope you follow me back for inspiring quotes, poetry, books, spirituality stuff and a whole lot of (mostly) uplifting random stuff

  • locksley2010

    Fight, flight and freeze. That makes perfect sense now it’s been pointed out! Thank you.

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