Functioning on autopilot while feeling numb is an all too common experience. However, this sensation can indicate something more severe taking place.
According to childhood trauma coach Chelsea Bartell, signs such as these can indicate you’re stuck in functional freeze mode.
5 Signs You’re Stuck In Functional Freeze Mode
1. You feel wired and tired at the same time.
Feeling hyper-aware but tired at the same time? Like fight or flight mode but your energy is on empty?
When you’re in freeze mode, you’ve likely encountered an overwhelming amount of stress in your life. On the outside things seem peachy and fine — but inside you’re numb and depleted.
“Though counterintuitive — this is our body’s way of helping us to survive,” writes Taptrisha Das. It adapts to the world around us and functions accordingly.
During this stage, you must stay connected. Go outside and take a walk. Breathe in the fresh air and notice the noises and smells around you. This can help you feel grounded.
Taptrisha also suggests reconnecting with a loved one. We are human beings and, naturally, we crave and thrive off connection. When you’re feeling tired, talking to a loved one can make you feel energized.
2. You feel disconnected from your emotions.
If you were a child and froze as a response, you probably dissociate as an adult. Bartell explains, “Your system needed a break from that constant stress but couldn’t physically disconnect from it so instead you internally disconnected. (through dorsal vagal collapse in freeze). Leading to disconnection from yourself, body, and emotions.”
If you are experiencing dissociation, here’s what you can do. Try deep breathing and activating your nervous system.
If you aren’t sure how to address your parasympathetic nervous system then start by exercising. Exercising releases happy hormones which can help with stress. But if that isn’t plausible then try meditating or doing yoga. You can also incorporate positive affirmations to help keep you grounded.
According to Psychologist Catherine Moore, “Self-affirmations are shown to both decrease health-deteriorating stress and lower rumination.”
3. You lack motivation.
It’s not hard to imagine, but freeze mode can increase both tiredness and lack of motivation. These symptoms can make it nearly impossible for you to meet your daily responsibilities — causing your mental health to worsen.
So, what is the best way to increase our motivation? By practicing mindfulness meditation.
Psychology writer Arash Emamzadeth states that mindfulness can increase our motivation.
He cites a study in which participants were split into three groups: the filler questionnaire condition, the podcast condition, and the mindfulness meditation condition.
According to Emamzadeth, participants in the meditation group had higher motivation than those in the podcast group.
4. You’re running on autopilot.
Are you finding yourself constantly operating on autopilot? Like you wake up in the morning — get dressed — go to work — and drive back home without a second thought or emotion?
If this is you, then this is a sign you’re operating in functional freeze mode.
Once again our brain is trying to protect itself in the best way it knows how. By going down to the basics and using only what’s necessary.
Think of it as going through a depressive stage. Depression causes people to go numb which causes them to operate from a purely instinctive perspective.
Bartell explains this feeling best, “My client described it to me like this, she said, ‘It’s like I’m watching my life through a window. I can see myself experiencing all these things and doing these tasks, but I don’t feel connected to it. Engaged with it. Fulfilled by it.’”
5. Difficulty focusing and concentrating.
Difficulty concentrating or focusing is yet another sign you’re in freeze mode. Being in freeze mode over time causes our mental health to plummet. Our focus begins to dwindle as our anxiety increases. As our stress levels rise we begin to ruminate constantly.
Forget the lousy meeting you know you should be paying attention to. Now your whole thoughts are entirely focused on everything wrong. Experiencing this over periods can cause our relationships, health, and work to slowly go downhill.
As Bartell writes, “She also said ‘I feel anxious, and my heart is racing but I have no energy to do anything. I work hard at work, but I come home, and I can barely keep my head up or respond to my friends’ texts.’”
Yes, this symptom can keep you checked out on the things that matter the most. If this is you then you should seek professional help. After all, breaking out of this hard cycle is nearly impossible without professional assistance.
How To Break Out Of A Functional Freeze State
Now that we know the signs how do we break out of functional freeze mode? According to the Bay Area CBT Center, you first must identify what your triggers look like.
Triggers of functional freeze mode include:
- Shallow breathing
- Increased heart rate
- Tense muscles
- Physical immobility
Next, understanding what causes these triggers can better help you to control them. Situations that cause intense fear — stress — or trauma can put you into freeze mode. Even being reminded of past trauma can put you in freeze mode, writes the Bay Area CBT Center.
If you want to overcome freeze mode try:
- Deep breathing
- Using your senses to ground yourself
By acknowledging these signs you can implement coping mechanisms to get you through functional freeze mode.
Marielisa Reyes is a writer with a bachelor’s degree in psychology who covers self-help, relationships, career, and family topics.