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What is functional freeze mode? Here’s everything you need to know

What is functional freeze mode? Here's everything you need to know

Have you ever had so much to deal with but no drive or stamina to get things done?

Constant stress, burnout and triggers can make you feel stuck and unmotivated. The more you have on your plate, the more likely you will withdraw from the world.

Experts call this state ‘functional freeze’, which may negatively affect different parts of your life. Here is an overview of this stress response and ways to regain control of your feelings, energy and mood.

What is functional freeze mode?

Fight or flight usually comes with a racing heart, trouble breathing, goosebumps, and a sudden cold or warm sensation, but did you know there’s a third stress response?

Freeze mode occurs when you experience a stressful situation, marked by muscle tension and a lower heart rate. Often, people associate it with fearfulness, high anxiety and overwhelm.

Unlike fight or flight, functional freeze mode feels like you’re trapped in your emotional state, while others might not realise anything’s wrong. You may meet work deadlines but can’t keep up with household chores at the end of the day. Personal hygiene may also get pushed to the wayside. You might be hungry but feel too overwhelmed to decide what to eat.

Being in functional freeze mode can look like keeping up with the basics of day-to-day life but not much else, and can leave you feeling trapped in a state of constant brain fog. It is often described as feeling immobile, indecisive or unable to do the things you used to with the same level of ease.

What causes functional freeze mode?

Presenting in a team meeting or getting into a car accident is enough to send anyone into a sudden freeze state.

Conversely, functional freeze occurs when you endure chronic low-grade stress. For instance, remote workers might have difficulty logging out of their computers at the end of the day. Stress from the pandemic may have also contributed to functional freeze mode.

Your nervous system is unable to keep up with everyday events and activities, causing your body to shut down slowly. Yet, it’s important not to be too hard on yourself, as freezing isn’t a sign of laziness or procrastination. Instead, it’s a coping mechanism.

Life with functional freeze: How it affects you

The symptoms of functional freeze are more subtle than a freeze state. Therefore, it’s essential to pay attention to bodily cues.

Basic tasks may seem like walking up a steep hill, and you may cancel outings with friends even if you’re feeling lonely. Some people feel too tired to move, even if they had a good night’s sleep.

In more serious instances, you could feel impassive or disconnected from the world around you, and your concentration might also wane.

The danger in functional freeze mode is escalating depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder. Women are three times more likely than men to experience mental health conditions, especially when they feel burned out.

Adrenal fatigue: Warning signs you’re running on stress and why it leads to health issues

3 tips to manage functional freeze mode

Functional freeze mode is an uncomfortable state to find yourself in. Fortunately, there are ways to pull yourself out of it and avoid worsening behavioral health problems.

Here are three tips to manage your chronic freeze state:

1. Identify why you’re stressed

Meditation, breathing exercises and yoga are excellent stress management strategies, but they only help if you know why you’re in survival mode in the first place. Keeping a journal allows you to see what your brain is fixated on.

Also, a therapist can provide excellent coping tools. Many people will experience mental health challenges at some point in their lives, and seeking professional help is a great way to address your stress and find ways to better manage it. Read this article to discover out how you can find the right therapist for your mental health needs.

2. Try grounding

Grounding or earthing can significantly aid your functional freeze. This method is simple science — human bodies are supercharged with positive ions from stress, while the Earth maintains a healing negative charge like a magnetic field.

Studies show skin exposure to the dirt can reduce inflammation, alleviate chronic pain, and help combat depression and anxiety. It may be worth kicking off your shoes and walking in the grass to escape functional freeze mode.

3. Immerse yourself in sound

Sound baths are highly effective for relieving stress. Practitioners use Tibetan singing bowls, gongs and cymbals to create a unique vibration that lowers blood pressure and helps your body heal.

According to one study, sound healing may stimulate the vagus nerve, creating greater wellbeing. Sound bathing most impacted the 20–40 age group, especially those who were working up their career ladder, starting a family, and dealing with poor mental health.

It’s easy to tap into the power of sound baths. You can purchase a singing bowl set or find free sound healing tracks online.

Unfreeze your body and mind

It’s mentally and physically unhealthy to remain in functional freeze long term. Nurture yourself with self-care to alleviate pent-up emotions. In time, you’ll be able to handle day-to-day activities without sweating the small stuff.

Mia Barnes - Writer - She Defined

Mia Barnes

This article was written by Mia Barnes.

Mia is a freelance writer and researcher who specialises in women’s health and lifestyle. Mia is also the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Body+Mind Magazine.

Follow Mia and Body+Mind on Twitter.