Releasing Shutdown: Moving from Freeze to Ease
What happens when we feel fear? We have experienced something in our environment that has sparked a sudden response to a perceived threat: we fight, run, or freeze. When we freeze, we are in ‘shutdown’. It is as if we are trying to become invisible in that moment. We are stuck in this holding pattern and we have never gotten any instruction on how to consciously move out of this protective pattern. Fortunately, we have just the tool we need to help us through that moment of freezing in a conscious and deliberate manner. We can move from this frozen place back into the flow with ease. We have the breath.
Our unconscious breath pattern reflects what we are experiencing. When we are calm, our breath is slow and we take relatively deep breaths. Our heartbeat follows the breath, so as our breath pattern remains regular and even, so does the rhythm of the heartbeat. When we feel fear, a threat to our safety, our breathing unconsciously shifts to a shorter, shallower, and more rapid pattern. The pattern of our heartbeat shifts right along with the change in our breathing, becoming erratic. Then the whole body begins to feel ungrounded and unstable, becoming loaded with frenetic energy. As we feel threatened, we begin to shallow breathe, but now we are holding our breath altogether. The heartbeat doesn’t stop, of course, but it will continue to reflect the frenzy of energy the body is experiencing. Then we feel the entire body change into a state of unease and we feel very unsettled indeed.
When we feel threatened, the reactions that I have just listed occur rapidly. Here is where our awareness of the breath can help us through such moments. Once we realize that we are in freeze mode and are holding our breath, we have done half of the work to get back to a calmer state. Let the breath out. Just this simple action of releasing your held breath gives the nervous system the signal “I am safe,” and it responds readily by relaxing a bit, thereby releasing the shutdown we were experiencing.
Breathe deeply. A slow and repeated deep breath pattern allows much-needed oxygen to infuse back into the body, the heartbeat to regain its stability, and the cells in the body follow suit. Turn into the sensations you are experiencing and breathe into them to help ground yourself once again. That conscious breath is one powerful steadying force. The act of consciously breathing literally has a marked calming effect on the entire nervous system and emanates out to the rest of the body. As we focus on the breath, we allow any stories of self-doubt and any other fear-based concerns to fall away. There is only your intentional breath and its miraculous calming power.
The detailed, step-by-step process of moving through shutdown is the third tool in my FREE Tool Kit for Stress Relief. I invite you to get your copy.