Everyone has heard of the flight or fight response. Think to the last time you were in traffic and had to slam on the breaks and your whole body was filled with adrenaline and cortisol. That’s the flight or fight response. The flight or fight response is what allows people in dramatic, life-threatening situations to have extraordinary strength or stamina to save someone.
What normally happens when we are in a situation that kicks in our flight or fight response is that when the situation is resolved, the body reverses the chemical storm that was created to help the person respond the situation in front of them via the sympathetic nervous system. But there are times when this doesn’t happen and the body continues to produce high levels of stress hormones (adrenaline and cortisol) long after the trauma has dissipated. This is usually happens when the victim of the trauma has “frozen” instead of fought off the attack or fled from the encounter.
What many people never learned about is that there is a third response called “freeze”. Have you ever heard of playing opossum? You know, playing dead? Or a deer in headlights? Well, that’s what the freeze response is. To the outside world, the victim looks dead, or passed out, so that the perpetrator (say a wild animal) will leave the victim alone. Unconsciously, we freeze when we access that we would not be able to fight or flee in the given situation.
During the freeze, the victim becomes paralyzed and this can be likened to disassociation in the situation. Psychologists and researchers now believe that mental health issues such as panic, phobias, obsessive-compulsive behavior, and anxiety occur when the parasympathetic (think opposite of sympathetic) nervous does not kick in and the “freeze” is not resolved. Researchers now believe that the number one indicator for developing PTSD is the lack of resolution with this “freeze”. They also believe that many chronic stress-related diseases may be mind-body expressions of unreconciled trauma. Furthermore, it is now believed that those who “froze” during an initial trauma (say a child being abused) is more susceptible to future “freezing” and it is more likely that re-traumatization may occur. Researchers like Levine believe that mind-body practices like yoga are some of the most effective tools for dealing with PTSD and trauma-related health problems.
To learn more about the Flight, Fight, Freeze Theory, take a look at this other WordPress blog under Polyvagal Theory by Steve Porges. You can also find him on YouTube for a more in depth look at it.
The good news about all of this??? If you are suffering from chronic pain, anxiety, depression, fibromyalgia, migraines, etc isn’t all in your head. Peter Levine and other trauma researchers believe that trauma and its resolution are bodily or physiological experiences that need to be treated on the physiological level. I think this takes away a lot of the stigma associated with these diseases because the general public is more inclined to accept a biological problem than a psychological problem.
I am currently updating the resources page on this blog so please check back as I fill in more places to find out about trauma.
Here are my questions for you:
- Have you experienced a car accident or series of car accidents?
- Have you been in a traumatic experience like an assault, abuse, fire, multiple invasive medical procedures?
- Do you experience problems related to migraine, fibromyalgia, pain attacks, depression, phobias, or obsessive-compulsive behaviors?
- Have you tried medication after medication and you still have problems with these dis-eases?
- Have you found that in the face of uncertainty, you feel paralyzed, literally or figuratively?
- Do you have trouble making choices and planning?
- Do you have chronic pain or muscular armoring (chronically tightened muscles most likely the shoulders, hips, thighs, back)
- Do you have times when you disassociate or have lapses in time?
- Do you practice any mind-body practices such as mindfulness meditation, massage, yoga, t’ai chi, stretching, etc?
- Do you know where to go to find help with your situation?
Remember you are not alone in your dis-ease process or pain. And you are not crazy. Millions of people suffer from unresolved problems that affect their biology. Neuroscience and psychiatry are finding amazing discoveries all the time that show us that experiences we have believed to be “all in our heads” are truly mind-body problems and need to be addressed that way.
There are plenty of things out there that can help you with your struggle. . . free yoga and meditation videos are available on Youtube. Check out videos by Rodney Yee, especially for beginners to yoga. He’s a great teacher. Check out different kinds of mind-body exercises and activities. Also check out gaia.com for amazing videos on mind-body activities such as meditation, yoga, etc.
You matter and you are important. Start today! Do something positive to make changes in your life. Please feel free to leave comments or questions you might have about chronic stress, disease, etc. Together we can rebuilt our lives.