If I had my druthers when I sat down to write each week I would start with an important event happening in the world. I’d say something extremely insightful about it that no other reporters had even thought of. Then I would tie it back to a lesson in interpersonal communications and being an entrepreneur that would make you catapult out of your chair with desire to be the finest, most powerful version of you ever!
How Conjecture and Division Induce Fear
But here’s what often happens instead: I peruse the news for the right event and find them all awful and overwhelming. Especially the way the news reports these days. It’s either conjecture or divisive. On the conjecture side, rather than describing what took place, reporters opine how it could have been worse or host panels on potential and disastrous implications.
As for being divisive, rather than reporting on the event itself they talk about how terrible the other side is making things, including detailed scenarios of what “they” (anyone who disagrees with said reporter) might do in response because they’re so wrong!
Basically things that haven’t actually happened but that could. That is a number one fear inducing tactic. And it works. It leaves me frozen in a way that sits in self-blame and doubt. If I were smarter/faster/better I would pull it all together!
When Feeling Stuck is Physiological
But what if feeling frozen was not a weakness but a natural, automatic physiological response to stress? It is! Which is why I want to share with you an article I wrote for a client this week with an interesting perspective on acting when you feel stuck.
It’s called FREEZE! A Third Alternative to FIGHT or FLIGHT, written with the expertise of Dr. Margo Jacquot of The Juniper Center Counseling and Therapy. We’ve known about Fight or Flight since the phrase was coined in the twenties. When faced with imminent danger, is your safety instinct to run and hide or to put up your dukes and attack?
It’s All About Vagus, Baby!
Now studies show that Freeze is also an automatic nervous system response for self-protection. Freeze is when you retreat inside yourself (like the gazelle at the watering hole when it hears a predator or the bunny on your lawn when you walk too close). It’s all connected to the vagus nerve—one big honkin nerve that starts at your brain stem and meanders down both sides of your body, touching almost every unconscious bodily function (breathing, heartbeat, digestion, etc.) below your diaphragm.
In simple terms, you can unfreeze your nervous system through movement to reactivate your vagus nerve. Even better news, drinking ice-cold water and singing at the top of your lungs, two things I love to do, are among tricks to get it back regulated. (Read the full article and link to studies here.)
News Day Daydreams
Of course none of this helps another reaction I have to reading the news. Inserting myself and imagining how I would have reacted or saved the day in the same situation.
This week it would be Will Smith’s revelation in his recently released memoir and all the interviews he’s doing now. (Here’s a good one from NPR.) Known as a funny and fearless top-box-office-leader, Smith shares that he was tormented most of his life about not defending his mom when his dad hit her. He said he felt like a coward because at that moment he didn’t do anything.
“Will!” I’m thinking, “Read this article about freezing! You were just a boy. It wasn’t your fault. It was your nervous system!”
If anyone could get word to him, maybe it would help him understand a little bit more and lead him to self-forgiveness.
What is your “go-to” nervous system response?
How does being aware of that help you? And am I the only one who imagines news day hero scenarios?