A paralyzing anxiety attack can almost completely shut you down.
When Fight-or-Flight’s brother, Freeze, hits you with his Supervillain-like freeze ray – unless you have a high frequency ice pick handy – you’re stuck!
Okay, okay. Anxiety related “freezing” might not be quite as dramatic as a Superhero battle.
But a paralyzing anxiety attack is definitely similar to being caught in the icy grasp of an overpowering force. You spin your wheels on slippery ground. You cannot move an inch.
Worst feeling ever!
How can you possibly shatter the grip of this frosty companion to the fight-or-flight response and get moving again?
Coping With Being Frozen By Paralyzing Anxiety
Put on a smile. It might seem an odd thing to do, and it’s probably the last thing you feel like doing. However, when you’re experiencing paralyzing anxiety, cracking a smile can change the brain’s neurotransmitters. Even if it’s just a forced half-smile and feels totally fake, do it!
Shock your nervous system. When your mind is frozen in a non-functioning state, at times you must take aggressive action to snap it out of this mode. Shocking your nervous system through use of the senses often works very quickly. Try splashing your face with ice-cold water, drinking or smelling something with a very strong or nasty taste, or listening to ear-splittingly loud music for a few minutes. You might be surprised how well these things work.
Oppose your fears. Counter the anxiety zapping you by firing back simple but realistic truths. Have a verbal duel – out loud, if necessary! When anxiety tries to paralyze you with, “You’re not good enough!” shout back, “What if I am?!” Follow up by acting on that truth and look for all the ways that you are truly good enough.
Distract your mind. When you’re locked into an ever-repeating loop of negative rumination, it almost always makes your anxiety worse. To break free, you must lead your mind on a detour for a while. Try getting absorbed into a video game, watching a highly emotional movie, losing yourself in the story and characters of a really good book, or surfing the internet for a while, clicking on one website after another.
Bring yourself into the present. Paralyzing anxiety is most often connected with what might happen, not what really is happening. The worry about the future can consume you so much that you forget about the present. You need to get yourself out of that state and focus your attention back on the present moment. It takes conscientious effort to do so, often repeated times. But when you shift your focus this way – to where you are and what you’re doing – you can begin moving again. Motivation to keep going will follow.
Take opposite actions. This technique is used in Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT). It means that you basically make yourself do the complete opposite of what you might feel like doing. Even a short period of activity can break you out of the freeze of anxiety. Do you want to isolate yourself and shrink away from people? Make yourself go to the mall or some other place with lots of people, even if you’re totally terrified. You want to just vegetate in your bed and never get up again? Make yourself take a 20 minute walk, anywhere you want.
Of course, the hardest part, always, is taking the first step. But if you have an arsenal of actions you can take to confront Fight-or-Flight’s brother, Freeze, you can cope and win the battle against paralyzing anxiety.
Lori Hunter, LMFT specializes in working with families, co-parenting and those high conflict couples struggling with relationships. She helps couples build intimacy, teaching effective emotional processing techniques that directly improve thoughts and behaviors.