Over these last few weeks of isolation this is where I keep finding myself. Essentially stuck with the inability to get even simple things done like sweeping the floor or answering back on an email. It’s not really depression, though probably a little swing more to that side in terms of its flat affect. It’s not really anything at all. I’m neither happy nor sad, motivated nor unmotivated. Just here, kind of doing nothing. Skimming Instagram for the ninetieth time today, opening my email and closing it again. Thinking about phoning someone, turning on the TV instead. Thinking about all this extra time at my disposal and just sort of letting it seep through my fingers, kind of but not really bothered at all. Will it always be like this? Is this my “new normal”?
In analyzing my behaviour, as I’m so very prone to doing. Trying to piece together my mood, if there was a particular trigger or if it is just the general landscape, are others feeling like this too? I realized yes, lots of people are in this sort of stunned, wtf and whatever type of sentiment. Doing what we are told by staying in for the greater good, without really anywhere to go anyways. Trying to find the silver lining, trying to stay positive because that’s what we’ve been trained to do while also trying to support our family, our friends, our colleagues and/or employees. That right there is enough to make me very tired – and I got a full night sleep last night.
To continue to analyze, when we are faced with stress, we generally do one of two things. Fight, whether we actually yell and get mad or internalize all that rage inwards or, flee run from all our problems. Except in this case we have nowhere to go so we do the next best thing: shutdown or freeze. When faced with a serious traumatic event, freeze is our last-ditch effort for survival. We essentially play dead, we may even faint. Our brain stem, or most primitive part of our brain concerned only with survival takes over for our logical and emotional brains, also suspending our memory centres. When freeze turns on it also floods our body with oxytocin, a natural based painkiller because if this is it, it’s not going to hurt. So while trauma is subjective, and many of us are going through very different experiences at the moment, for most of us we aren’t in “life threat” though we may be feeling an “identity threat” and our brain quite simply doesn’t know the difference between the two.
So here we are. 6+ weeks into semi lockdown and isolation. For better or worse our usual crutches are gone. It’s a frustrating situation as businesses struggle, first responders are over worked, kids are crawling up the walls and most of us are drinking a little bit too much wine. We are in a daze. Frozen in a time warp…
What can we do? First and foremost, go with it.
There is something quite profound in allowing our brain and nervous system to do what they need to do to protect our emotional body in the moment. This is in many ways, an overwhelming time. So, if you need a lot of extra time in your day to just stare into space, scroll endlessly through social media or let indecision reign toggling through the offerings on Netflix – who cares.
Next, set very small goals for yourself. Today I will have a shower. Today I will call my mom, today I will answer one email. If anything else gets done too, great! If nothing else gets done – great! Try to just get that one small thing done. The days of full to do lists and running around with appts everywhere will just push you further over the edge.
Finally, wait it out. As I’ve been riding these waves, I’ve found a few days of pure apathetic, I have no idea what I’m supposed to do with myself, so I’ll do nothing days are followed by quite positive, ideas are flowing empowering days. So, ride the wave friends. Whatever day you are having today, have that day. No pressure, no more and no less. I’m on the ride with you.
PS: For the days when emotions are swinging, I’ve created two online workshops under Yoga for Mental Health: Practices for Depression and Practices for Anxiety that are currently on my shop page here. They both include a 45min Yoga practice, breathing techniques, a guided meditation and daily checklist. For more information around how our brain/nervous system processes trauma, check out my 2-hour online workshop: Creating a Healing Practice which includes a one-hour trauma release Yoga practice and a one-hour narrated theory presentation.
5 thoughts on “The Freeze Phenomenon”
I agree exactly with how you are feeling and your blog was great. One point got the thinking. What hormones are we experiencing in the freeze response. Must be more than oxytocin.
So I am been reading. This might be of interest.
There are many other hormones and peptides known to affect freezing, including progesterone, testosterone, oestrogen, oxytocin and vasopressin [41 ,72 ]. Oxytocin may, for example, affect the shift from freezing to active defensive responses by acting on cholinergic transmission in the lateral CE of the amygdala and the ACC, but also by inhibiting vasopressin neurons in the medial CE that project to the vlPAG [41 ]. These hormones and peptides also act on other neurotransmitter systems implicated in the expression of freezing, including gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) dopamine and serotonin. GABA tonically inhibits defensive behaviour in the amygdala, hypothalamus and the PAG, an effect opposed by excitatory amino acids [41 ]. Serotonin release in the dlPAG and in the rostral ventrolateral medulla inhibits active fight-or-flight behaviours [73 ]. Interestingly, there are indications that endogenous serotonin in these regions originates not only from the dorsal raphe nucleus but also from the vlPAG, suggesting an additional mechanism by which vlPAG activity can inhibit dlPAG-driven fight-or-flight reactions [73 ].
Thanks for your stimulating blog.
Namaste, Gary >
thanks Gary!! I had to read through that a few times lol but interesting on the progesterone, testosterone. also makes sense for GABA, dopamine and serotonin to have a small role in helping us cope. It’s probably another reason we are just feeling messed up right now, hormones and chemicals everywhere!
This really resonated with me. I shared it with my work colleagues too. We are discussing “feelings” in our daily meetings and I thought this would work hand in hand with that. Thank you.
Susan I am honoured – thank you!