Jeannie Herman, LPC, NCC
Updated: Jan 15, 2020
When we are scared our sympathetic nervous system kicks in and causes the fight or flight reaction. What many of us do not know is that it is actually fight, flight, or freeze. Have you ever felt like a “deer in the headlights” or been “paralyzed with fear”. You may have experienced this when giving a speech or when someone asks you an emotionally triggering question, or if you have been the victim of violence or experienced a threat to your safety. When you are in freeze mode you cannot respond. This made sense for humans when they felt that the predatory animal that was to powerful to run from or fight was about to attack. Freezing may allow you to appear invisible and avoid your demise.
One of the highest ranking stresses in our current moment in human evolution is money. Poverty threatens our ability to survive. It threatens our ability to meet out basic needs: food, shelter, warmth, safety, and sometimes even our ability to find a mate. When we feel that we cannot make enough money to support ourselves and our families, our sympathetic nervous systems can become engaged and we feel the fight, flight, or freeze urge. We can use energy from fight or flight to our advantage but freezing can be detrimental.
We can use the energy from the fight instinct as a motivator to apply for jobs, meet people who could provide useful connections, go back to school, and other active behaviors. We can use the energy from flight to look for employment elsewhere; maybe you live in an area where the cost of living is high and there are few jobs that pay well. Freezing is not helpful and looks like laziness or avoidance. It may include an excessive amount of watching Netflix series, looking at porn, reading novels, playing video games, substance use and refusing to take rational steps towards goals. Freezing is different from quiet contemplation.
Stepping out of freeze and getting your financial life back on track:
1. Turn off the avoidance strategies (TV, porn, games, substance use…)
This is not always easy and may at times require professional interventions.
2. Get back into your body (walk, stretch, dance, yoga, swim…)
Find a way of moving your body that you enjoy. If you hate what you are doing it will not be effective.
When we are in freeze we tend to disengage from our bodies and we might seem “spaced out.” In some indigenous cultures it would be considered that part of the soul has left the body and a Soul Retrieval would be performed. Your consciousness needs to spend most of its time in your body to be healthy and successful in life.
Freezing is hard on your body. When you are stressed your body gets overrun with stress hormones, such as cortisol. These hormones are meant to give you energy for fighting or fleeing. When you are stuck in freeze those hormones just hang around causing anxiety, frustration, depression, health problems and pain. Physical exercise burns up some of these hormones and helps you to feel balanced.
3. Engage your rational mind
What has worked for you in the past? Think of a time when you felt successful and confident with you financial situation. Are there steps you can take to get you there again? Sometimes it is a matter of perspective. You may be better off financially now than you where in the past but your expectations and desires are loftier. Shifting our perspectives is often what it takes to get us back on our feet. Acquire and attitude of gratitude.
Make a list of all the possible steps you could take to help you reach your employment or financial goals. Allow yourself to be creative and step outside of the box. Are there opportunities that you are currently passing up? Take of your “freeze blinders”. Most employment and financial opportunities arise from connections, not from applying for random jobs.
4. Take action
Take the steps you made on your list! Apply for jobs, rekindle friendships, go on a hike with a new friend, attend a community event, let people know your situation and ask them for referrals or employment connections. Most people love to help others!
You can use these four steps to get you out of the stagnating and ineffective symptoms associated with freeze in your financial life and other areas of life such as love, health, and life satisfaction. Try it out!