All animals have a hard-wired-into-the-nervous-system way to respond to intense stress and overwhelm: First choice would be to flee the danger, and if that’s not possible, then to fight it off. If those are not viable options, we freeze, or go into a kind of ‘immobility’ state. Like the possum, playing dead. (*Important side note here – this “choosing” is done for us by our nervous system and happens in microseconds)
The freeze, or immobility state is meant to be short term, and temporary. However some of us can have lingering effects of this state for months, or even years. Coming out of the freeze/immobility state requires the body to mobilize that energy that got “frozen” mid-fight or flight. This can happen in a variety of ways, but that discharge is essential for the completion of the stress response cycle. The discharge of the energy is just one component to the healing process though – allowing full and complete deactivation afterwards is key as well. The whole cycle allows for integration of the experience that led to the disorganization and restores the natrual ability to respond and settle from stresses on going with equal ease and fluency.
When the energy of activation stays stuck in the body, it will persist in trying to do it’s job – attempting completion of the activation/deactivation cycle. This can show up as chronic muscle tension, a slightly elevated heart rate all the time, shallow breathing, scattered thinking – basically shadows of our threat response that are going off chronically and taking a lot of energy to do so.
Symptoms can range from being irritating, to exhausting, to utterly miserable. And, the more they’re focused on, the worse they can become. What they’re really needing is support. What a suffering nervous system needs is relief. What could be more relieving in a crisis than for it to be over? For the threat to be gone. For the danger to have passed – and to know you’re safe. To know everything is OK – to know that you’re OK.
Funny, many of us actually have to learn to tolerate feelings of ease, pleasure, relaxation. But in time, it can become comfortable and familiar to know what that feels like. Instead of only being oriented to what’s wrong, what’s hurting, etc. As that balance begins to tip, what left us traumatized can begin to soften and dissolve. Leaving more space in our body, mind, and spirit for the goodness and joy life brings.