I had a client ask me to send her the written steps of what to do when she is stuck in freeze and I am sharing what I shared with her, with you. Freeze is that feeling we get when we feel like a "deer in headlights" or overwheming dread. There is alot of intelligence in her request for a written list because when we are in freeze our prefrontal cortex and thinking brain have gone offline so we no longer has access to all the things we know. It has nothing to do with how smart we are! We are being run by our ancient survival brain, the amgdala and the reptilian brain. When the survival brain is running the show we can literally lose access of how to come out of freeze, so I suggest printing this list and putting it somewhere you can see it. (The short version is at the end :))
How to Shift Out of Freeze
1. Acknowledge and Identify that You are in Freeze
What might freeze feel like? Deer in headlights, stuck, unable to move, overwhelmed, unable to go forward, feeling of hopelessness or helplessness, collapse, feeling alone, feeling like you have no options or choice, a feeling like you’re going to die or something horrible is going to happen.
It can be helpful to say to yourself “I am in Freeze” to help bring your thinking brain back online. A sure sign of freeze is that the feeling of overwhelm does not match the current situation. You aren’t actually going to die from this task.
2. Befriend instead of Belittle
A feeling of overwhelm that doesn’t match the current situation is a possible sign that what you’re experiencing is an implicit trauma or somatic memory. What isn’t helpful is beating ourselves up for it. Thoughts like “I’m acting dumb, or dramatic, or overreacting” will not help. Trauma needs connection and safety. Calling ourselves names is not safe.
3. Use Your Five Senses to Bring yourself back to Present
Feel the present moment
Feel your feet on the ground, touch your chair or a fuzzy blanket, hold a warm or cool cup between your hands, take a sip. Take time to really feel the sensations, notice the texture and the temperature
See the present moment
Slowly look around the room. Notice the light coming through the windows, the shadows in the room. See your room. Say what you see.
Hear the present moment
Take a moment to locate all the sounds you can hear. The birds outside, the TV or appliances, your breath
You can add smell and taste to help bring you back to presence, if it’s helpful for you. One client likes to taste tic tacs to be present, another likes the smell of essential oils
4. Breathe – once you feel a little more present take 5-10 deep breaths. Inhale slowly through the nose to fill the lower belly, pause at the top of the inhale and exhale slowly through the nose all the way to the bottom of the breath. It’s important to empty the breath completely on the exhale so that there’s room to take in the fresh inhale. When we are anxious, we tend to never fully empty the lungs and that’s why we don’t get enough air.
5. Take the next small step – if freeze has started because there is a task in front of you, try not to think of the finish line, instead make small intentional steps and choices that move you forward in the direction you want to go. To heal from trauma we need to be present and be able to make choices to feel safe.
6. Take care of yourself – take breaks, go for a walk, rest, laugh, eat when you’re hungry. Movement is the best way of completing the stress response. Small increments of movement count! Dance, shake, stretch, or practice progressive muscle relaxation. Breath is the second best way of releasing stress, blow out through pursed lips or make a loud sighing noise as you breathe out.
7. Acknowledge that you’re healing – possibly a part of yourself that is quite young or less resourced is healing, and that young self needs compassion and kindness to know that she is loved no matter what, and that she deserves nourishment and kindness
For ease and Simplicity
3. Come Back to Present Using the 5 Senses
5. Take the Next Small Step