Breaking Free: Understanding and Managing the Freeze Response

freeze response

-Deva Narayan

Though the fight-or-flight response is very popular, the freeze response is quite inconspicuous yet vital in dangerous situations. The fight-or-flight response being well known makes the freeze response just as beneficial for a person’s mental and physical health. Recognizing what the freeze response is, why it occurs, and how to manage it can give useful perspectives to all who are under stress or dealing with trauma.

One of the automatic responses of the body to the threats that you perceive is the freeze response, which is at par with fight and flight. At times of danger, the body may ‘freeze’ in the face of danger; meaning it becomes temporarily immobile or numb. This reaction is supposed to be an evolutionary adaptation, as well as when animals stop moving to avoid predators. In a freeze response, individuals feel like they are trapped and cannot move or speak and they even feel disconnected from their environment.

What Causes the Freeze Reaction?

The frozen reaction is controlled by the parasympathetic nervous system, which increases peripheral organ functions while the sympathetic nervous system takes care of fight or flight. If there is a threat to the brain, it assesses the situation for it to come up with the proper survival strategy. While neither aggression nor fleeing seems a plausible option, the brain may opt for freezing as a way of coping. This can be advantageous in situations where not moving can help to decrease danger, so the predator or aggressor cannot detect you.

Freeze Response Impacts Mental Health

The potential effects of experiencing the freezing response on mental health can be quite significant. When there is acute stress or a traumatic situation, freezing is what makes you feel helpless and powerless. Later, if these situations continue to recur and are left unresolved, then this could lead to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety and depression. People who always experience the freeze response can have difficulty in making decisions, may feel chronically numb or detached, and may have trouble participating in their daily activities.

The frozen reaction can be managed and conquered. “Understanding and being able to manage freeze response” is a key point for one to reach better mental states and higher overall well-being. Here are several strategies that can help people deal with and overcome such reactions:

Grounding Techniques: These techniques are one of the best ways to re-establish the connection between mind and body and mind and surroundings. Methods such as deep breathing, concentrating on physical feelings or using your five senses to pay attention to the details in your environment can be effective.

Therapy: Trusted therapies like cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) or trauma-focused approaches through various therapies help people overcome mental barriers, preventing them from making sense of their past experiences. Therapists may also teach tools and strategies on how to deal with freeze response systems.

Mindfulness and Meditation: These are practices that can develop the skill of being present, thus, giving people a better understanding of what they mean by staying connected with their bodies and decreasing the inclination to freeze.

Physical exercise: Regular exercise can help dissipate tension and enhance mental well-being in general. Yoga, Tai Chi, or just simple stretching exercises are among those that can be particularly beneficial.


The freeze response is a natural, yet complex reaction to stress and danger that plays a significant role in how individuals cope with threats. While it can be debilitating, understanding why it occurs and how to manage it can empower individuals to navigate their stress and trauma more effectively. By incorporating grounding techniques, seeking therapy, practicing mindfulness, engaging in physical activity, and building support systems, individuals can learn to manage and overcome the freezing response, leading to improved mental health and overall quality of life.

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