The Freeze Response, and How We Can Take Control of Our Health.
Could you have double-vision because you had to watch a close friend of yours die of cancer, and not because you’re getting ‘old’? Could you have had colon cancer because your dad yelled a lot at the dinner table when you were a kid, and not because of what you ate? Could you be constipated because you gave yourself a hard time about what you ate, and not because of what you ate? Could you have a disc bothering your low back because of some annoying smell at work, and not because you are bent over all day at work?
Yes, you can. The above all happen to be situations I have experienced dealing with patients. Through my work, I have begun to realize how our perception of the world and how we deal with things, not always the things themselves, affects our bodies. Today, The Secret, What the Bleep Do We Know, and other books and movies like these are gaining in popularity, and helping us understand how we might control our lives, our health and our wealth.
Perhaps we are finally beginning to realize that our minds affect our matter.
I’m going to start by explaining the Freeze Response/Dissociation. We’ve all heard of fight and flight. Our systems react and respond to threats. Two of the choices we have against these threats are to fight them or fly from them. The parasympathetic nervous system is supposed to be the main player in our daily lives by keeping us calm and providing for ultimate brain function. This system lowers blood pressure, slows the heart, and shunts blood from the muscles to the abdominal viscera for digestive processes. When we are threatened, the sympathetic nervous system kicks in, taking the blood from digestion and giving it to the muscles, increasing heart rate and blood pressure, dilating the pupils, pumping out endorphins and corticosteroids, and impairing memory usage and storage. This is all so we can effectively see and act rapidly to the threat and not usually remember or feel exactly what happened.
Now we come to the other choice in the threat response least talked about, but most important in understanding disease and pain processes, the freeze response. The freeze response is what happens when we cannot fight or fly and subsequently feel helpless in the face of the threat. If an animal survives the freeze response, (for example a gazelle freezing after being chased by a tiger, and the tiger decides the animal is dead and goes off to retrieve the cubs for their meal) it will arouse and begin to tremble, effectively releasing all the energy that was built and stored to fight or fly. Dr. Robert Scaer, a local Neurologist, describes this in his book The Body Bears The Burden: Trauma, Dissociation, and Disease. “The animal’s behavior at times seems to resemble an unconscious attempt to complete the act of survival, as if the last protective motor or muscular activity is locked in unconscious procedural memory and needs to be released, or completed, perhaps as a means of ‘discharging’ retained autonomic energy.” I watched a video with Dr. Scaer, of a polar bear being shot with a tranquilizer gun from a helicopter, from which it was running. Upon coming to, the bear appeared to be running in its sleep and was making biting motions. The animal will, when discharging is completed, get up and run off and be ‘OK.’ However, when humans experience the freeze response, we typically hold all this energy in our systems, leading to pain and disease. Scaer goes on to state that if in humans, this discharge does not occur, “the sensorimotor features of that traumatic stress will be imprinted in implicit memory through basic operant conditioning, to be accessed in the future for the purpose of survival.” And if the animal experiences this response, which Scaer terms inescapable shock (IS), multiple times, the animal will resort to this reaction even if a way out of the situation presents itself. He also stresses that, “In addition, animals exposed to several episodes of IS linked in time with neutral stimuli will begin to exhibit freezing in the face of the neutral conditioned stimuli presented independently.”
So how does this affect the average person? Most of us are living our lives in a state of sympathetic dominance and this drains our energy. Our alert switch is stuck in the ON position. Let’s define ‘threat’ and ‘freeze’ in today’s terms. A ‘threat’ that could put you in the ‘freeze’ mode may seem insignificant, but once examined, can be realized to have great implications. For example, let’s say you work at a job, and at this job, there is a person. This person annoys the crap out of you. You have to get up every day and go to work and be around this person. You can’t fight them, though you may think about punching them sometimes. You can’t fly from them, in other words, you can’t get away from them without switching jobs, which you don’t feel you can do right now. So you are left feeling helpless, the feeling that you have no way out of your situation. So you go to work every day in freeze mode. Insert for person: school mate, teacher, boss, parent, sibling, wife, husband, abstract situation like money, job, house, weight, the shape of your nose…etc. Insert for annoying: threatening, physically or verbally abusive, loud, demanding, controlling, smelly, nagging…etc. Now let’s examine this a little deeper. You don’t want to listen to this person, you don’t want to look at this person, you don’t feel good about this person, you don’t want to talk to this person, or have them talk to you, for that matter. You don’t even want to get close enough to smell them. I have just listed all of the five senses except for taste. Your twelve cranial nerves are the means of transmitting the stimuli from your sensory organs to the brain to be processed and ‘sensed.’ So when you subconsciously think “I don’t want to see this person,” you are effectively telling your eyes you don’t want them to see. You dissociate yourself from your eyes and partially shut down the cranial nerves that transmit sight to your brain. Over time, you could see your vision starting to decline. Let’s say, as with my example of double vision from the opening paragraph, you saw something awful and it had a greater effect on you. Another extreme example would be migraines felt behind your eyes. But not only does the direct sensory dissociation take place, but other dissociations in your body do also. Through Applied Kinesiology, it can be shown that with the dissociations of the associated cranial nerves, certain muscles are also inhibited causing weaknesses in the framework of the body, leaving it susceptible to injury. And with that organs can also be affected, like with the dad yelling at the dinner table. The child was eating, a neutral stimulus, and went into freeze mode when the dad would yell. So after experiencing multiple situations of IS while eating, the child was conditioned to associate eating with being threatened or scared. We are a whole, not parts. You must look at the whole to determine the why.
So where do we go with all of this? Begin recognizing these situations in your life and how you react to them. Become more conscious of it. How does the situation make your body feel? Go in. Where is it manifesting? This is what the yogis have taught us all along. Think about your jaw. It is a good indicator of how you are reacting. When you don’t like something do you deviate your jaw to the right, bite your cheeks or lip, suck your lower jaw back? For example, when you think you are going to cry, to stifle it you usually do one of those things. It is a repressive reaction. Cranial nerve 5 is associated with your jaw. Cervical vertebrae 3 and 5 are associated with the jaw as well. Your triceps and extensor carpi radialis(first and second finger extensor) are associated, as are all your jaw muscles. Ever notice how when you worry a lot, your shoulders get tense and you may get a headache on the back of your skull? That is because worry is associated with cranial nerve 11, which is associated with C7 vertebra, which is associated with your trapezius (attached to the back of your skull) and your SCM(runs from your medial collar bone to the bony bump behind your ear) muscles.
Begin trying to change the way you react to or feel about situations. Don’t be afraid to change your situation. Get out of it! Do something new and different! Look at the bigger picture. Feel SAFE. We don’t feel safe with our senses or in our bodies, so we shut them down. There are therapies out there to counsel you and help you discharge traumatic situations you have experienced or are experiencing. Some examples are Sensory Neural Integration, Neuro Emotional Technique (NET), Somatic Experiencing, and movement/dance healing.
Love yourself and don’t be hard on yourself for things you have done. You can change the way you react in the future, but you cannot change those reactions you have already had. Forgive and be in the NOW. I cannot state that implicitly enough. Let it go. Forgive others, and most importantly, FORGIVE YOURSELF. Love and forgiveness are the ultimate healers.
Natalie Pritchett, D.C.
Applied Kinesiology & Sensory Neural Integration
2439 Broadway Boulder, CO 80304
email: [email protected]