The stress response is often full of F-bombs, but perhaps not the way you may think. Well OK, there’s often THAT kind of F-bomb, too; but the ones I’m thinking of are safe to use in front of the boss, pastor, or kiddies. So what F-bombs am I talking about? I’m sure you’ll recognize 2 of them:
We often mention the fight or flight response when talking about stress, but very rarely do we in the massage community talk about the third F: Freeze. I admit that I’m as guilty as the next person for leaving it out of the conversation. Because Fight and Flight get so much time in the spotlight, I’m going to focus solely on Freeze today.
Freeze is a common response to stress but often goes unrecognized because it gets so little attention. It’s not as flashy as its siblings Fight and Flight, and it doesn’t rhyme with them either. So right off the bat it’s got 2 strikes against it. Add in its ability to make you look like a complete doofus or doormat and it’s strike 3, you’re out. It can, however, save your life.
The thing is, the freeze response is often what happens when you undergo a traumatic experience, or one that reminds you (even on an unconscious level) of a traumatic experience. It’s important to note that these traumatic events do NOT have to be life threatening in order to evoke the freeze response. It also happens when your brain determines that neither fight nor flight are viable options. The freeze response literally renders you unable to fight or flee. It can cause a great deal of guilt in the form of “I should have done____,” “I should have said ____,” or “If only I’d _____.”
Well let this be your get-out-of-guilt free card. You have no more control over the freeze response kicking in than you do the fight or flight response shunting blood away from your brain and stomach and sending it to your arms and legs.
So what about the life-saving aspect of the freeze response that I mentioned earlier? There are many documented instances where people have been saved when the freeze response caused them to ‘play dead’ when attacked by a large predatory animal (including humans with weapons). Now, admittedly, most of us won’t be in a situation that requires the freeze response for that kind of survival, but it’s nice to know it’s there if you need it.
I’ve only just scratched the surface of the freeze response, but I encourage you to look into it further. Peter Levine’s book, Waking The Tiger, is a good resource for information on it.
And just remember… there are 3 F’s in stress.