When we talk about stress, research shows that stress hormones are released in our bodies when we have a fight-or-flight response. A trigger happens, your body is flooded with adrenaline and cortisol, and you respond by running away or by shifting into fighter’s stance, ready to take out everyone near you.
There’s actually a third possible response: freeze. A trigger and the flood of stress hormones that come after can freeze us in our tracks. We are simply paralyzed and unable to move, react, or make decisions.
When was the last time you had a fight, flight, or freeze response?
Fear as the Trigger
There are so many things that can cause a fight-or-flight response. If you are hurrying in the morning and then get stuck in a traffic jam that will make you late for your meeting with your boss, you could have a stress response. It might be a fight response, causing you to yell at all the cars all around you.
If you are dating and your honey says, “We need to talk,” you might run from that conversation by trying to do everything that you can to avoid it. That’s not “literal” flight, but it’s still the idea of trying to get away from what they want to say.
Fear can also be the trigger. Fear often results in a freeze response. Someone who is afraid of snakes might see a large snake in the grass and just stop, frozen, unable to move. A fear of public speaking might have the same result. These might seem like unimportant fears, but the result can be the same with something far more important.
Jeannine Midgett, the manager of Healthe Communities, Cerner’s philanthropic outreach to build healthier communities, shares a time she encountered a freeze response.
Three years ago she was diagnosed with cancer. She has worked in healthcare for her career, so although she is not a clinician, she has an understanding of health and the healthcare system that many of us do not have.
Despite her knowledge, she heard the word “cancer” and just felt paralyzed. She was completely unable to react or respond.
Jeannine says, “Fear is a barrier. Fear of what you know and fear of what you don’t know. I had to work through being paralyzed. I had to move through to get the knowledge. I had to move through to a good landing place and find what’s my new normal, and move to that place of even in this new unknown territory, it’s all still good.”
We all experience fear at different points. How do we move from a stress response and our fight, flight, or freeze reaction to a place where we are at a good new normal?
Jeannine offers recommendations. She says that we need to find balance, energy, and passion so that we can get back into our lives and be present.
The first thing that we need to do that will set us on the path of finding balance, energy, and passion is to be still.
This can happen in the doctor’s office if that is where you are frozen. You can be still by focusing on your breath. Take five slow deep breaths in and out. Just those five breaths can help to reset your nervous system and flush some of the adrenaline and cortisol from your system.
But it is also important to find time to be still every day in your life. Jeannine recommends giving yourself 10 minutes every day. “Give yourself some time and just be present in the moment.” The word “give” emphasizes that this time to be still is a gift that we can give to ourselves.
Jeannine’s prescription is very flexible. The 10 minutes a day could be 10 minutes looking out of the car window and observing the things that you see. Or it could be 10 minutes with the phone turned off where you are not connected to all the devices.
Becoming still can also be accomplished through any mindfulness practice. These mindfulness practices, including meditation, prayer, mindfulness, and movement like yoga and tai chi, help us to regulate adrenaline and cortisol. With these practices, we can reground our bodies and minds to find balance.
Ten minutes is a very short time to give yourself, but it can still feel overwhelming when we are in a period where we feel frozen by fear. Remember, you can start with just one minute. Take just one minute to breathe deeply, or to observe what is around you.
Fear is an emotion that can lower our life-force energy. It can also lead to other emotions like anger that will lower our vibration and energy. When we give ourselves time to be still, we can rebalance our energy.