For the past few months, I’ve been in the constant state of having so much to do but struggling to complete most of it. It’s almost as if my motivation is non-existent. It’s been infuriating and anxiety-inducing all at the same time. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve told myself to get it together and push through, and I’m quick to chalk my issues up to a lack of drive. But, it turns out that I’m not the only one. I finally decided to talk to my co-workers and friends about what the heck was going on, and they agreed that their motivation was at an all-time low. With so many of us struggling, I determined there had to be something else going. There’s no way that laziness was the only thing we could blame.
The nervous system in action
It’s helpful to understand how our bodies respond to stress to start to dig into why we can’t seem to find any drive. We all have a built-in defense system to protect ourselves from any danger, perceived or actual. When our bodies sense a threat, there is both a psychological and hormonal response- think heart racing, palms sweating, increased oxygen flow, blood sugar spikes, and so much more. Many of us know this as our nervous system’s fight or flight response, and it’s basically how our ancestors coped with things like animal attacks. However, we often forget that there is a third part of the equation, our freeze response. When faced with danger, we might fight, run, or we might simply stop.
The Trauma of the Last Year
The past year was packed full of trauma and threats. Our bodies were in hyperdrive trying to protect us. Think about it- we were living with the fact that the simple (and necessary) act of breathing could harm us. That’s a lot. To make matters worse, one of the best strategies for moving us out of our fight-flight-freeze response, human connection, was taken away from us. If we did choose to connect with others, we knew that the simple act of being together was a threat to everyone. Ugh, even typing all of this out makes me exhausted. For most of 2020, many of us lived in the fight or the flight response, constantly overstimulated and hyper-aware. As the threat of COVID-19 slowly starts to dwindle, we’re moving into a freeze response.
Activate Freeze Mode
It’s like our bodies cannot handle the constant adrenaline from fight or flight. Our brain is still recognizing a need to protect us, so our automatic nervous system chooses to go into freeze mode. It’s like our own personal hold button. How might this impact our day-to-day life? There are still many psychological and hormonal changes happening, so your freeze response may cause you to feel extra tired, you may struggle to find the motivation to get things done, and feel a general feeling of gloom. It often mimics the feelings of depression.
The issue is that our body’s automatic freeze response can make it challenging to get through all the regular demands of life. In a society where we are taught that we must constantly go-go-go to succeed, the freeze response can result in feelings of anxiety and failure. Unfortunately, there is no quick fix to move us out of this automatic reaction, as much as I would like this not to be true.
How do we cope?
So how can we help ourselves if we find our freeze response activated? The first step is to recognize it and acknowledge that our bodies are trying to protect us from trauma and threats. The next thing is to practice self-compassion and show yourself kindness. Try an affirmation like “I recognize the challenges I am up against and honor where my body is currently at”. Lastly, stop fighting it and give yourself real rest. Turn off that internal voice that tells you that you need to be productive and slow down.
The reality is that we are facing so much change and collective trauma that we need to practice patience with ourselves and stop chalking up everything to personal failure. I can guarantee that you aren’t the only one struggling to complete tasks, but this is just a moment in your overall journey. We will get through.