Feeling unmotivated or apathetic does not mean that you need a kick up the butt because you’re being lazy. And it does not necessarily mean you’ve simply got a case of the winter blues.
Feeling unmotivated and apathetic are two of several red flags that can indicate the body is in a freeze response.
If they are joined by a few of the following friends then it is highly indicative of the freeze response:
- procrastination and indecisiveness
- withdrawal from social engagement and a tendency to isolate from connection with others
- loss of clarity and direction, sense of confusion
- tiredness, don’t want to get out of bed
- overwhelm is often a trigger
- feeling of collapse or giving up. Life feels too hard.
- numbness, blankness and dissociation
- depression and feeling low
- feeling paralysed or stuck inside
- mindless scrolling on social media or other distraction type activities
- feelings of hopelessness, helplessness or powerlessness
- feelings of guilt, blame and shame often accompany
So what is the freeze response?
We share with animals instinctive, automatic survival responses called fight, flight and freeze. When we feel threatened, unsafe, overwhelmed or activated, we will respond in one of these three ways.
“Fight/flight” mode, is when the sympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system is highly activated.
Freeze or immobility happens when the level of activation (anger/fear/anxiety etc) reaches a certain physiological threshold. The freeze or immobility state is when the parasympathetic branch of the nervous system then also activates and acts like a circuit breaker that shuts down the physiology when it is overloaded.
Going into a freeze response is not a conscious choice, your nervous system does it automatically if it does not feel that fight or flight will work.
For example, if your childhood environment was unsafe (including emotionally unsafe) then it is quite possible that freeze has become your default response because you were unable to fight back or run away.
Instead, we suppress our inborn impulse to protect ourselves by running or fighting, and this suppression becomes physical and mental dis-ease in the body/mind.
So what to do if you are feeling frozen or stuck?
Freeze is not an easy one to come out of on your own. For myself personally, I realised I had a life pattern of freeze and had many sessions with a Somatic Experiencing practitioner (nervous system specialist) to break that as my default response. It has changed my life completely! You can read more of my personal journey with freeze here.
But here are some suggestions of where to start:
- Although you feel like doing the opposite, start to reach out to safe people for connection and support.
- Do something very physical that can arouse your system out of shut-down – I found boxing and lifting weights really helped.
- We come out of freeze by connecting with our healthy, self-protective aggression. Underneath freeze is almost always suppressed anger. Find any remnant of fight or anger in you that you can and grow it!
- Identify with your adult self and see that it is the child in you that has gone into a freeze shut-down. Be the protector of that child. Let him or her know that it is okay if she or he is not feeling like doing anything right now, that you are going to take care of things. Get angry and protective on your Inner child’s behalf. Fight for them.
- Connect with a safe person’s healthy, protective anger on your behalf.
- It does not mean that you go and enact the anger at someone (though some assertive boundary setting may well be in order). It means you connect with anger and use it as a means to pull you out of the symptoms of the freeze response.
If you recognise the freeze response as a common pattern for you (maybe even a lifelong one as it was for me) then please do get in touch. I can help you with this. It is not your personality. It is a survival response and it can be changed.
To your health and happiness.