Day 60 – Thursday, Feb. 9th (60/306): Shifting gears and “unfreezing” the fear response

In the conversation with my friend Wednesday morning, as we talked about fear, she mentioned the paradigm of “fight or flight.” It’s a familiar paradigm to me. What was new to me was the expanded paradigm she described, which recognizes a third response: “fight, flight or freeze.” More so than taking flight, certainly more than fighting, “freezing” is a familiar response for me.

Such responses are embodied reactions to fearful situations for all of us. I bring them up here because I want to remember something my friend suggested – an exercise that creates a kinesthetic experience to help me (and my body) learn a new, healthier response to fear.

The exercise is simple and can be done almost anywhere. You begin by “freezing,” standing perfectly still in one spot, consciously, intentionally, for several moments – long enough that your body knows it has “frozen,” stopped in its tracks. Then you intentionally choose to look about, turning your head if you like, but keeping the rest of your body in the “freeze.” Next, you choose a spot, then very intentionally choose to move to that spot. The dynamic experienced by you (and your body) is one of creating a new practice of moving from freezing to action. The fact that you consciously choose to do this helps you to discover that you can choose new responses to fearful situations as well.

Our conversation was really quite interesting. She pointed out that things that trigger fear can feel like they are life and death to us, even when we know that, in reality, they aren’t that big a deal. In the grand scheme of things, they might even be ridiculously non-threatening. Yet that doesn’t diminish the fearful response we might be feeling. It’s important to honor the fact that our bodies can experience something as threatening, even as our logical mind tries to tell ourselves we shouldn’t be so frightened. I knew exactly what she was talking about.

We talked about how intense emotional reactions to current events, that seem out of proportion to the situation, are often connected to something from our past. Reflecting on the current situation and asking ourselves what it reminds us of from the past may help uncover what is triggering the disproportionate reaction. Even if it doesn’t, acknowledging that our response is disproportionate and that it may be connected to some event from our past can help us let go some of the fear (or anger or other intense emotion) and move through the experience a little more easily.

Today I received a call from a staffing agency about a temp position. The position would begin Monday and be virtually full-time (Mon-Fri, 9:00-4:00) for six weeks. It was interesting to notice my body’s reaction to the possibility of needing to suddenly shift gears – the EEK! response. If I get the job, it would mean a sudden shift in when I can do my work at my present job, with no transition period. Boom! I would suddenly go from 14 to 46.5 hours per week.

I really hope I get the job – if this is where I’m meant to be for a time. I truly need the money, and I like the organization and would appreciate the opportunity to work there. Could it be that my ability to adjust to this possible change so quickly – I “unfroze” rapidly after the initial call to see if I was interested – happened as a result of Wednesday’s conversation about fear and learning how to respond to it differently?

And I haven’t even practiced the freezing, choosing a spot and moving to it yet!

Action step(s):

  • Had lunch with a friend and did an informal “informational interview” with her about chaplaincy work. (Which led me to even more questions we didn’t get to!) Networking!!
  • Said yes to a possible temp position and became willing to adapt as needed.
  • Listened to my body’s need for quiet this evening.
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1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Lucia
    Feb 10, 2012 @ 11:54:37

    I may have to refer to this post often myself, just to remind me to breathe, to let go, and to remember that some things may *feel* far more threatening than they really are… I’m so thankful for my wise friend and the insights she shared with me!

    Reply

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