Frozen: Thawing Out & Gaining Courage to Speak Up
We’ve all felt it before — something is happening, something that requires action, immediate action. And yet… we can’t move. We don’t have the courage to speak up. You’re left frozen, immobile, impaired.
The gravity later sinks in, frequently accompanied by shame and guilt.
Why do we sometimes turn to stone when faced with stress? Only later to regret what we could’ve done?
It’s completely natural, but there are ways to help “unfreeze” in these moments of anxiety.
Here’s an explanation of what causes this common reaction to fear and a few ways you can mentally prepare yourself for when it happens.
This is important. Really important.
This is the difference between being a bystander and making a difference. Whether the difference is for you or someone else, it matters.
But at some point… it will happen. Here’s why.
Why We Freeze
Even animals do it. You know the saying, deer in the headlights.
He could’ve just smelled your fart… but he looks pretty shocked.
Our bodies have two nervous system responses to fear that happen first: fight or flight. The bodies reaction is the same for both. Our blood gets pumped into our legs and arms, heart rate increases, the lungs take in more oxygen… we’re activated and ready to respond.
Then there’s a third response: freezing. It’s our bodies last resort, when our nervous system gets completely overwhelmed, and our body reaches its threshold of anxiety. We become immobilized.
It makes sense from an evolutionary perspective. Think of a gazelle, running from a lion. First it flees, all energy is put towards an attempt to get away. Then, the body decides it’s capable of no more: it freezes, in hopes the predator will lose interest or to prepare the gazelle to not feel pain. The body goes into shock.
Our culture has facilitated the common bypass of fight or flight. The desire to be polite frequently trumps our gut instinct. It’s a sad reality that commonly creates a complete unresponsiveness when faced with terrible situations.
For example, I recently read a viral post about a girl that finally got the courage to speak up when a man groped her on the bus… but it had happened several times before that. And she had frozen up.
Your silences will not protect you…. What are the words you do not yet have? What are the tyrannies you swallow day by day and attempt to make your own, until you will sicken and die of them, still in silence? We have been socialized to respect fear more than our own need for language. – Audre Lorde
It’s time to get back our courage to speak up when faced with more than we think we can handle. Here are some tactics you can used when you’re frozen with fear.
How to Thaw
Your conscious is more powerful than you potentially realize. There are useful tactics you can use to chip away the ice when faced with becoming a statue. They can beat the subconscious reaction of no action.
This will take practice. Just like we are trained when young to suppress our reaction to scream or run away, you will have to train your mind to overcome the freeze.
Don’t worry… Spring’s coming.
Your mind is capable of knowing when you’re freaking out. Let it acknowledge the bodies response. Neutrally analyze what’s happening.
I’m bracing my shoulders. My jaw is clenched. I’m not breathing.
This is a way to interrupt your anxiety with acceptance.
Applaud Your Efforts
Did you manage to get your muscles to relax? Did you take a spontaneous deep breath?
Acknowledge this too. Enjoy the sensation, and realize you made it consciously happen. It will help you regain control.
Learn From Your Experience
There are tactics that will work for you, and ones that won’t. It’s important to remember. Every time you experience a bout of anxiety, it’s an opportunity to practice overcoming it.
Eventually, you can even potentially prevent it from taking place. Try changing your story when you start to experience nervous system responses. For example:
“Doug is waiting for a date. He starts to think ‘I’ve been stood up, she isn’t coming!’ He accepts his feelings of doubt and anxiety, then consciously changes his thought process. ‘I’m sure she’s just running late. There was lots of traffic on the way here.’ “
It might seem silly, but this can be extremely powerful.
Breathe. Understand your response is natural. Realize you can regain control. And ultimately, gain the courage to speak up and assert your boundaries.
Don’t judge yourself or shame yourself for your body’s natural response to anxiety.
What it All Really Means
You’ve froze. I’ve froze. We’ve all froze.
It happens at the worst of times. And it can leave you with feelings of guilt and resentment that you didn’t act when you could’ve.
In the end, we are all pilots of a plane that sometimes malfunctions. All we can do is assert as much control as possible to avoid a crash. But just remember, you’re more in control than you think you are.
Have you ever froze? How did you feel after? I want to hear about it… leave me a comment below!