How I overcame the freeze stress response after an anxious situation
If you suffer with anxiety, you know just how crippling it can be. As horrible as it is, anxiety is actually a normal, instinctive human emotion that everyone experiences at times. It is a temporary call to action to fight or flee to keep us safe in the face of danger. However, when worry and fear are constant, a person gets caught in fight, flight, or freeze mode, which can be disabling.
The most seemingly harmless stimuli, thought, event, etc., can be overwhelming, making it feel impossible for the brain to slow down to relax the body, making pain persist. In this blog, I want to focus on the freeze response, the least well-known stress response, and how I worked through a situation where it kicked into high gear.
Before sharing that story, a little more information on the freeze response. Unlike the fight or flight stress response where we believe there is a chance we can outfight or outrun perceived danger or stressful situations, the freeze response gets activated due to a perceived or real inability to take action. In essence, one feels helpless to fight or flee the threatening, painful, or stressful experience. Doesn’t this helpless feeling sound similar to living with pain?
During the freeze response, the body becomes both tense and paralyzed at the same time. The thoughts, sensations, and emotions of the stressful experience become suppressed or internalized, not only in the mind but in the tissues of the body. This is called somatic memory (body memory) and can have damaging effects if the event or trauma experienced is not processed in a healthy way. Somatic memory is used by trauma therapists to describe symptoms that don’t seem to have a physical cause, but can be related to trauma, perhaps in childhood for example, and then forgotten by the mind but not by the body.
I have a theory that many people with movements disorders that also include a tremor are the result of unresolved trauma. Before outright disputing me on this if you think otherwise, which is okay if you do, it is just a theory. But it is a theory based on how the freeze response works in relation to trauma and tremors. This is a topic for future discussion. For now, I want to share how I worked my way through a situation where the freeze response kicked in. In more accurate terms, how I discharged, or released myself, from a mildly traumatic event.
I was driving home one evening on a back road in my town and was stopped by a police officer for speeding. I was angry when I saw the car and lights behind me because I rarely to never speed. Within about 20 seconds, all of the different steps and frustrating things you have to go through in order to resolve a speeding ticket went rushing through my mind. I thought to myself, “I don’t have time for this. What a big pain. Tom, you big dummy!”
The police officer came to the car and he was friendly but all business. Other than being frustrated for being caught for speeding, emotionally I was totally fine during my interaction with the officer and very clear headed. After I received my citation and drove away, my body began to tremble and I got a little bit chilly. I thought to myself, “what’s going on? This is really strange. It’s not even cold out.” I then began to shake even more.
It then hit me. My body was releasing itself from the event by way of neurogenic tremoring. Neurogenic tremors are the body’s natural way of releasing stress by way of shaking. In other words, my body was “shaking off” the micro trauma it just experienced by being stopped by a cop out of nowhere, at night, on a back road, which totally took me by surprise.
I then remembered everything about the freeze response I wrote for the stress chapters in my 2 books. When I realized I was experiencing neurogenic tremoring, a natural, instinctual healing process, I allowed myself to shake as much as my body needed to release the experience I just had. I didn’t resist any of it. In fact, I welcomed it because these tremors help to reduce over-activity in the sympathetic nervous system and bring the body back to a state of balance and ease.
I had about 5 miles left to drive home and when I walked in the house, aside from being angry at myself for getting a speeding ticket, I was no longer shaking and I was no longer in emotional distress. Knowing the possible ramifications of resisting the shaking/tremoring, I consciously and purposely allowed myself to shake off the event which allowed for my body to be at ease in a very short period of time.
This all being said, if your body ever begins to shake after an experience that is unsettling, allow it to shake because this is the natural healing process the body needs to go through to effectively release the traumatic event from emotional memory. If you don’t allow the shaking, it could cause unwanted health consequences as previously mentioned. Going back to what I said about tremors…if you live with a tremor and experienced any major trauma in your life that you may have not fully resolved, please consider this possible connection to your current health status. I have seen this connection in many people where I would feel remiss not to mention this possible connection for others.
Tom Seaman is a Certified Professional Life Coach in the area of health and wellness, and the author of 2 books: Diagnosis Dystonia: Navigating the Journey and Beyond Pain and Suffering: Adapting to Adversity and Life Challenges. He is also a motivational speaker, chronic pain and dystonia awareness advocate, health blogger, volunteer for the Dystonia Medical Research Foundation (DMRF) as a support group leader, and is a member and volunteer writer for Chronic Illness Bloggers Network, The Mighty, Brain & Life Magazine, and Patient Worthy. To learn more about Tom, get a copy of his books (also on Amazon), or schedule a free life coaching consult, visit www.tomseamancoaching.com. Follow him on Twitter @Dystoniabook1 and Instagram.