Fear is universal, we all experience some degree of it. It has helped keep us alert and act in times of danger as well as protect ourselves from looming threat. We don’t face the same kind of threats to our survival our ancestors did but we still have the same pathways to automatically react. We also have memory stored in our bodies to protect us from future upset. Anxiety which is so prevalent today is operating in a fear response.
Fear can be debilitating, overpowering, and a destructive force in our lives. Being in the waves of fear can make us feel weak, unsupported, and defeated. Worst off we can even blame ourselves so it is important to first recognize how real and automatic these responses are and unique to everyone. Knowledge in this case is power so you do not work against yourself by denying your reality or projecting your very real experience onto other things or people.
What we are talking about here are primarily unconscious hardwired fears. And it is important to mention- fears that do not pose a real threat to our survival. Conscious fears you know about, can talk about and understand. With unconscious fears you are getting into the nervous system reacting a certain way that you don’t fully consciously know or can control (that part of the brain is actually bypassed on onset). This could happen when you’re in a dispute with someone or something happens to cause a sudden negative shift in your internal state. This can be a result of various levels of trauma experienced by you or even someone in your lineage.
These nervous responses incite feelings of doubt like thinking- “I’m not good enough, I am being threatened, I’ll let everyone down, I am incapable, I cant/wont be supported, etc.” A big part of that unconscious belief is the sense of isolation and powerlessness it brings.
This leads to being emotionally and energetically stuck. Being able to name this process and understand it is happening will allow you to navigate through this and in that sense take your power back. These experiences are so debilitating because the sense of disconnection from the response. The most challenging part of fear is that is comes on as a reflex. The only way to combat this would be surrendering with presence and allowance while also integrating a sense of consciousness. We would have to not judge ourselves, give ourselves space for the experience, and meet it with compassion and a curiosity to understand.
How can we accept the bodies automatic response? How can we let our emotions come up? How can we make our bodies know they are safe?
By leaning into the fear, we actually have a better chance of integrating it and reversing that disconnection. That disconnection is entering fight, flight, freeze, or fawn. Leaning into fear is the challenge and you can learn a lot about yourself by doing this. I recognized I especially struggle trusting others when I am in this state and my work is now to stay present around someone, I trust instead of letting my instinct to run take over. So next time something like this happens to you examine later what response you experienced to the feeling.
When we are feeling “frozen” in fear there is an inability to think clearly, an inability to make decisions and understand what it is we need, what we need to do, or what actions to take. We could be feeling as if we do not have any other options or time to do what needs to be done. Racing thoughts instill a feeling of powerlessness so not only are we feeling threatened to need to act but we do not have the usual resources and senses of survival to us.
We have the power to choose a different outcome. We have the power to try again. We have the power to rewrite this story. But in the moments of nervous response there is no magic solution to suddenly feel better, we have to work at grounding back in our bodies from the inside out. Below is a process I used the last time I was put in a specially uncomfortable position where I had to await a decision made by others that would greatly affect my financial security. It left me feeling frozen and powerless, I also suffer from anxiety. There was no ‘thinking myself out of it’ or even mustering the willpower to throw myself into something else.
The truth is you cannot rid fear from your life. It will always come up. No matter how successful or great your life is there is no bypassing fear. But you can allow yourself to move through it. And it is how you allow yourself to move through it that makes all the difference. And there you have it, your power back.
One thing I had to do before this exercise was drop the expectation that I was suddenly going to feel good that day. By doing that I actually allowed for more moments to actually feel good because the pressure I was putting on myself was the hardest part of it all.
Exercise for Retrieving Power from Fear in a Freeze State
Take your power back one step at a time in the order below. This is to ground you into a state of safety and empowerment. Grounding in this context is coming back to our senses and out of automatic reaction.
1. Ground Internally
You can ground internally by bringing your awareness to inside your body. This is through taking sips of water (you would not be slowly sipping water if you were being chased by a bear and your unconscious nervous system knows this) , taking a vitamin supplement (something that is simple enough that the anxious mind can agree too). Also breathing exercises (breathing in particular does have a scientifically proven soothing affect of the nervous system)
2. Ground Internal body with External Body
Now that awareness has been brought internally the body feels safer than it had before. We can then merge the internal safety with presence of the external body by doing things like taking a shower or bath, going in a sauna, and massaging the body. Also, gentle movements like yoga that connect breathing with the physical body.
3. Ground External Body with External Environment
Now that there is more presence of the physical body you can become grounded into reality by doing something small and interactive with your immediate surroundings. I did a small task that wouldn’t use my creative brain (your creative and decision-making centers are shot in nervous response). I put all my books back on my bookshelf and cleaned off my living room table. It gave me a sense of having control over my surroundings that brought another level of conscious awareness. You could also spend time being around someone who could respect your needs at this time.
These activities sound simple, but fear is primarily unconscious, we are talking our inner animal and our most basic need which is survival being threatened. The more we can regain a sense of being alive in these moments, even if its just breathing, is powerful. These activities only took me a couple hours, but I made conscious space for them and for me. When you do meet your fear and nervous response like this you actually begin to have a relationship with your nervous system and the best part is it remembers you survived, and it remembers you are why it survived. Do not give up, you are so much more than fear you have literally evolved beyond it.