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Fighting Functional Freeze Mode to Get Moving Again

Posted by Triple Naturals I On Apr 25, 2024
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You may not be familiar with the term “functional freeze.” But if you’ve ever experienced one, you know it’s no fun. In this state, you don’t feel driven, you lack joy, and you just can’t seem to snap out of it. You’re psychologically “frozen” in place and unable to get moving again. This response to stressors is debilitating, but all is not lost. You can recover and get back to your old self with these proven strategies.

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What Is Functional Freeze Mode?

Functional freeze can be described in a variety of ways, but it boils down to getting so overwhelmed by prolonged mental, physical, and emotional stress or trauma that you simply cannot function. Your brain and body shut down, effectively putting you into what is known as “functional freeze mode.”

People experiencing this state might look like they are functioning just fine in daily life. However, inside, they are feeling numb, helpless, checked out, and running on autopilot.

This feeling of immobility can manifest itself in many ways. You might, for example, feel disconnected, like you’re just going through the motions of living and interacting. You could be dealing with excessive procrastination, an inability to make decisions, extreme fatigue, and even shallow breathing. You may feel detached from sensations in your body or a lack of emotion.

Sufferers of functional freeze mode often find themselves overcompensating for this state by overworking and pushing themselves too hard, seeking unnecessary approval from others, or even disengaging from society and social interactions. This state can look and feel a lot like depression and, gone unchecked, can turn into a depressive state.

Why Does Functional Freeze Occur?

According to scientists, functional freeze mode can happen when our bodies don’t see a way to get away from stressful circumstances. While this can cause undesired physical changes, there are also a number of psychological repercussions.

Functional freeze can occur due to chronic stress, threatening situations, burnout and being overworked, experiencing overwhelm, frustration with life or situations, unresolved tension and emotional issues, a lack of clear purpose, or too much responsibility.


As in the “fight or flight” stress response we’re all familiar with, functional freeze mode is one of the ways the body shuts down psychologically to protect you from acute and prolonged stress. How does this happen?

The dorsal vagal complex, part of your nervous system, takes over to handle the stressful situation. It is responsible for keeping your physiological systems, like breathing and heart rate, in balance. But when you’re in constant emotional turmoil, this system kicks in to protect you, both physically and emotionally.

In this age of hustle and bustle, overtime, crazy schedules, and stress from all sides, it’s easy to slip into overwhelm and eventually functional freeze if you don’t take care of yourself.

What You Can Do to Break Out of Functional Freeze Mode

What can you do if you are experiencing functional freeze to help yourself get moving again and feel better?

Just move—when you’re stuck, use the power of motion, which creates emotion. Have you ever been sitting around, possibly feeling sad, when one of your favorite songs came on and it changed your whole mood? Before you knew what was going on, you were dancing and singing, and all of a sudden, you felt happier and more energized. Harness this! Just getting up and moving around is literally a first step you can take to get going again.

Sound bathing—just like it sounds, basking in beautiful music and vibrations can also lift your mood and change your outlook. Fitness enthusiasts have long used the power of music to jumpstart their workouts. Tibetan singing bowls have been around for thousands of years, and the vibrations they create are said to help the nervous system relax. Even the “white noise” like gentle waves, raindrops, or sounds of the forest you might use at night to go to sleep can help your system relax.

Get grounded—getting grounded again involves taking some time out to connect with yourself. Take time to be in the moment and savor the sights, sounds, textures, smells, and flavors of your environment. Gentle movement like walking or stretching can also help calm your mind and help you focus on your body and your sensory experiences.

Connect with nature—connecting with nature can help you break out of your frozen state as you spend time in the outdoors, taking in the sights, sounds, smells, and feel of your surroundings. A Japanese practice of therapeutic stress relief called shinrin-yoku (aka “forest bathing”) or spending time in the woods (or just in nature) can provide the relief you need. Spending time in the great outdoors is proven to help boost the immune system, reduce stress, and provide a sense of calm.

Mindfulness and meditation—taking a mental time out is pretty much always a good idea. You don’t have to meditate for long periods for it to be effective. Try just taking two to five minutes to sit, breathe deeply, and appreciate your surroundings and all the good in your life.

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Learn to laugh again—laughter really is the best medicine. Watch a comedy, read something funny, or lighten up with friends. You can even try a Yoga Laughter class if it’s available in your area. These classes intertwine laughing with yoga moves and breathing techniques to help your body release endorphins and activate your parasympathetic nervous system (the system that helps your body relax).

Pet an animal—whether you’re a dog or a cat lover, petting soft fur and providing joy and comfort for another living creature is a great way to get out of your own head and focus on caring for someone else. (Perhaps while singing, “Soft kitty, warm kitty…”)

If you’re fighting functional freeze mode and you’re ready to get moving again, try some or all of the above techniques. Remember to be kind to yourself and give yourself grace as you learn to deal with stressful situations and arm yourself with relaxation and self-care methods.

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