It’s famous…the Fight or Flight reaction dichotomy that happens every time the adrenaline starts pumping through your system as you’re facing yet another new crisis or unfamiliar situation.
It’s a human thing. I mean, look at us: Bad eyes, really limited smelling ability, can’t hear well, small teeth, no claws, weak muscles, can’t run, bad at climbing, and on and on. In a world of predators, we tend to be a lot wary. We’ve got good reasons.
Depending on your own propensities, you may want to believe that you’ll stand firm and fight your way through whatever obstacles and challenges you must.
Courage and perseverance and never say die…all the full-blown, pump-’em-up motivational stuff plays in your mind as you keep on trucking on. Forward, forward, always forward. A valuable and viable option.
Or maybe you want to believe that you will be wily and smart enough to pull a dig and peel on outa there when the odds are overwhelmingly against you.
Retreat and you’ll live to fight another day. You’ll be able to choose your battleground and marshal your resources more effectively. Fall back, regroup, and try again. Another valuable and viable option.
AND THEN THERE’S THE FREEZE
Then there’s the third reaction that doesn’t get quite as much show-time. It’s called the Freeze. Think deer in the middle of the road, caught in the headlights of an oncoming sixteen-wheeler. Few people want to emulate the soon-to-be street pizza, but very often they do.
The Freeze arises from the fact that we think…a lot. It’s another very human trait — the one, in fact, that has put us at the top of the food chain and made our species the biggest, baddest predators of all.
THE FREEZE HAS A FANCY NAME
The Freeze is such a prevalent behavior pattern that the smarty-pants scientists even have a name for its extreme form — “tropophobia.” It’s a genuine, actual condition that can be extremely debilitating and cause all kinds of problems for you.
“Tropophobia,” it says here, is “the fear of moving or making changes.” People who suffer from it don’t handle surprises well. They suck at dancing with change. Even minor changes can cause a complete breakdown.
Tropophobia can be triggered by things like moving to another country, state, city, or even another house in the same neighborhood. Changing schools or jobs are major obstacles. Relationships that are changing are excruciating for these folks.
Getting a different vehicle, changing doctors or insurance companies, having new neighbors move in next door, making small changes in set routines, changing your mind or entertaining a new idea….anything that’s different, anything “new and improved” can throw you into a tailspin when the Freeze is your default response.
This is not good. It’s hard to do your dance when your head’s whirling around and around and you’re feeling dizzy and nauseous.
ANATOMY OF THE FREEZE
To some extent, every one of us humans can get overwhelmed by changes that keep coming and coming. Most of us develop work-arounds and strategies for it that allow us to keep on moving through the changes in outward circumstances or changes in our own feelings and internal landscapes. Some of us just can’t.
One of the most common traits of people who are affected badly by the Freeze is extreme stubbornness. Their “Yes-Book” is very small; their “No-Book,” very large. Things are supposed to happen a certain way and no other way is going to work. Rigidity is their middle name.
The general anxiety that happens when faced by any change gets blown up into major crisis proportions. If the anxiety level gets too high a panic attack may set in. Your heart beats faster and faster. You have difficulty breathing. Weakness, fainting, dizziness, tingling or numbness are common occurrences. You start sweating a lot and may experience chest pains. Extreme terror grabs you and you spin out. ACK!
One cause for the condition that stands above the rest, according to the smart guys, is trauma. Something happened to the sufferer that convinced them that moving made them a target somehow.
Any kind of movement that calls attention to their presence feels dangerous. For them, it feels better to hide out in the bushes or behind masks rather than to risk an attack that might cause some kind of harm or suffering.
Just the possibility of future suffering or the repeat of suffering that previously occurred gets magnified so badly that they become unsettled and very wobbly. Who wants to move when the ground under your feet is rocking and rolling and cracks are opening up in front of you?
An extreme need for consistency makes people who suffer from Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder prone to getting driven into a frenzy by any change in daily routines.
Others may just be terrified for no real reason at all. You don’t need a reason to be scared. Sometimes you just are.
Hey…let’s face it. Despite our current status as top dog of the world as we know it, humans are basically descended from a long line of brainy runners and cringing scaredy-cats. The ones who were brave (and unlucky) didn’t survive long enough to HAVE descendants. Freeze-genes are part of our DNA.
We honor the fearless ones mostly because the majority of us know that inside our own selves there is a terrified heart prone to a heck of a lot of trembling and moaning.
SO, HOW DO WE DEAL?
Therapy is one solution touted by the smart guys. Cognitive-behavior therapy can be helpful. This type of therapy changes the way you react to a feared stimulus by helping you sort through the options available to you when you are confronted with whatever scares you.
Often, by using these techniques, you can even get some insights into what causes you to freeze up like that. You use your mind to calm your mind by developing routines and workarounds that help you cope with some feared change or other.
Things like shock or exposure therapy have also been used to treat tropophobia as well, but that just sounds like a refined sort of torture. (The kid’s scared of the water? Easy solution: throw him into the middle of a deep pond. Watch him drown. End of problem.)
Medication’s another solution. Specially designed anxiety medication and/or anti-depressants can alleviate the symptoms of anxiety. They can also help with the physical symptoms of panic attacks like difficulty in breathing.
However, the side-effects of the drugs can be gnarly and, for real, popping a pill every time you get scared just shoves the fear under the rug for a while. You’re going to keep tripping over it…again and again and again.
Relaxation techniques, including the beginning stages of meditation and yoga, listening to music and various breathing exercises have been found to be very effective at alleviating anxiety and other symptoms. Many people choose these as quick and easy methods for coping with various situations as well.
The problem with all of these methods, practices and techniques is that they are coping devices. When you use them, you relieve and mitigate the assorted symptoms of the problem, but you are still stuck with the basic problem, which is your fear.
It sits there, a raging stream that cuts across your path and the dream you’re chasing is on the other side of the stream. Treading water in the middle of the stream just doesn’t get you to the other side.
Marketing maven Seth Godin had an interesting take on this whole issue in his book, POKE THE BOX. He points out that things are always moving and flowing. He calls that flow “flux” and says that engineers can measure the flux of heat or molecular change by measuring movement.
One example he uses is putting an ice cube in a cup of hot tea. The heat moves from the water into the ice. The ice melts. That’s flux. That’s movement.
The problem is that people often confuse the natural flux and movement of the evolving world around us with risk, and, for real, “risk” is just a state of mind.
The feeling of “risk” is the result when we put some value on a particular outcome. We want that outcome very badly. If we don’t get to that particular outcome then we feel we have lost something somehow.
Risk always involves winning and losing. And risk always brings with it the possibility of failure. Chances are, the more risks you take the more likely it will be that you will fail at some point.
If you’ve been trained to avoid failure, Godin says, you will be especially averse to taking risks. Your wonderfully agile mind starts in, showing you all the ways this move or that move could lead to failure. Not only that, the people around you, who probably don’t like change any more than you do, are likely to chime in as well.
You start getting anxious. You’re going to lose, Lose,LOSE…oh, no! So you don’t move.
Anxiety, according to Godin, is “experiencing failure in advance.” Your mind is doing a ju-jitsu number on you, throwing you for a loop.
Godin likens the reactions of the risk-averse to acting like a rock in the middle of a flowing river. He says, “People act as though flux – the movement of people or ideas or anything else that’s unpredictable – exposes us to risk and exposes us to failure. The fearful try to avoid collisions so they avoid movement….”
He tells us, “Like a rock in a flowing river, you might be standing still, but given the movement around you, collisions are inevitable.”
He points out that a log floating down that same river is in the flow of movement and change, but that log is likely to experience a heck of a lot more calm around it when compared to that rock. Moving with the flow it doesn’t get banged up so much by the floating debris and it can land in a pretty cool place eventually.
Godin’s solution to thawing the Freeze is this: Flex with the flux. Move. You are more likely to get to somewhere else pretty much intact.
This YouTube video, “Numbing Pain and Joy” presents an important concept: when you numb pain (or discomfort or fear) you numb joy.
The video was published by KirstyTV, the You-Tube channel for internationally known motivational speaker Kirsty Spraggon whose main focus in her talks and as an interview talk-show host is vulnerability and working through the issues connected with being a bonafide, genuine human being.
Here’s a poem:
This is SERIOUS!
Here you are lollygagging down this road
on your way to your Doom.
You are ignoring all the smarty-pants prophets.
They tell you how foolish it is to be
refusing to be ruled by inevitability,
refusing to heed their fingers pointing at your fate,
ignoring their gloomy and direful predictions of your predicament.
So what happens?
This road of yours takes a left.
then it takes a right…
an unexpected corner – OOPS!
pothole here, mud bog there,
mist and shadows,
caves and heights.
You move one more jot
along your meandering trail
going hither and yon along yet another cliff edge,
then down some rocky beach,
under the pretty trees,
totally unaware of that stupendous bunch of heavy coconuts
that just misses your head because
YOU stopped to watch some hyperactive orange-and-black butterfly
zigzag-zipping along through the zinnias.
This is not so bad.
by Netta Kanoho
Header photo credit: “Glacier” by Douglas Scortegagna via Flickr [CC BY-2.0]
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