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The Forgotten ‘F” Word

For all of you with your mind in the gutter you can jump on out.  This blog is not about that particular topic, but rather another word/biological response that while ever present seems to have been forgotten.

Most have heard of the Flight or Fight Response, yet many do not know that there is another third and quite common response known as Freezing.  These biological responses are a result of stimulus which is perceived as overwhelming or fearful and typically poses some form of threat to the individual experiencing this type of response.  However, what happens when stress feels so paralyzing that we essentially freeze within our own lives?

While many people would say that they would like to lead stress-free lives, it is likely not in our best interest in order to survive/thrive.  It is important to remember that stress itself is not inherently bad, despite that fact that it tends to get a bad rap.  Rather the real issue lies with prolonged/chronic stress and how we choose to deal (or not) with it.  Currently many high school students are in the thick of exams and some amount of stress is helpful and adaptive to motivate one to study in preparation for the exam in an effort to succeed.  The diagram below helps to demonstrate that ideally we want to find ourselves operating within the optimal zone of moderate stress-levels since, in the above example, without any stress there would be little motivation to want to study.

Yerkes–Dodson Diagram


Here are 5 things that we can do to help ourselves thaw out from this frozen-state:  

 1)  “Name It to Tame It”- Dan Siegel

Giving the issue a name, aka- worry, anxiety, etc. helps us to know how we can go about helping to fix it.  Once we know what it is and it no longer feels so abstract and out of reach we are often able to get a better hold upon it.

2)  Talk About It…But Not Too Much

I know that this one may seem a bit confusing, since I am asking you to both do and not do the same thing, but it is how one goes about doing this that makes the difference.  Talking about anxiety/worries can help to shrink them since they don’t feel quite so big and unmanageable especially if this is done with a trusted individual (therapist, friend, family member, etc.).  The concern with respect to talking about worry/anxiety too much is that the more time and space that we give it in our lives, the more likely it is going to be to become a focal point.  Sometimes the most difficult part of this is finding that healthy balance between the two extremes and often a professional can be most helpful in finding what that balance looks like for you.

3)  Tap Into Your Creative Side

Many adults have a difficult time being able to name and talk about their own feelings, let alone children and youth, hence it always surprises me when we expect the young people in our lives to be able to do so.  Supporting children and youth to express themselves by drawing their feelings or through play is an excellent way to help them get a handle on their emotions.  Journal keeping or writing down worries can also help to get them out of your mind and onto a contained and external medium whereby you have control of when, how and where to access it should you wish to do so.  Some people, including children and youth, even choose to destroy or rid themselves of these worries contained within the words or drawings through ripping, crumpling, shredding or burning the paper on which it is written as an ultimate form of release.

4)  Let It Move Through You/Confront It Head On

Anxiety tends to breed and grow when we give it the space to do so—aka if we avoid it we simply allow it to take over our lives.  Allowing the feeling to pass through you/wash over you and or confronting it head on are all ways of regaining control over it rather than it being in control of you.  You are more likely to notice that it isn’t as bad as you feared and it may, in turn, have less of a hold on you in the future.

5)  “Takes Chances, Make Mistakes and Get Messy”- Miss Frizzle

Yes, you read that correctly… I just quoted the iconic Miss Frizzle from the 1990s children’s television show The Magic School Bus.  Miss Frizzle’s character was an elementary school teacher who always encouraged her students to “take chances, make mistakes and get messy” since she believed that this is the best way to learn.  Many people often find themselves paralyzed by decision making for fear of making mistakes, but if that is a part of the solution rather than part of the problem, wouldn’t that be alright?   Opening ourselves up to recognize that there aren’t any ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ ways of doing things helps us to realize that there are really just many options for us to choose from.  Most people with whom I have the pleasure of working have shared with me that some of the best lessons that they have learned have come from making mistakes.

 -Written by Amanda Tessier, M.Sc., RMFT, RP, Therapist

Amanda Tessier is a Registered Marriage and Family Therapist and Registered Psychotherapist at the Kanata Psychology and Counselling Centre who works with couples, families and individuals of all ages.  To book an appointment with Amanda (or any of our other therapists), please call (613) 435-2729 or e-mail to book an appointment. Alternatively, you can click the “Book an Appointment” button above and select Amanda as the person with whom you would like to meet.


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