I love to travel and I like to fly, even in this era of orange alerts. I love the moment of takeoff. I like feeling suspended in time out of time, and finding my travel Zen is rarely a challenge. So it was with some surprise that I recently found myself in my window seat freaking out.
Entering the third leg of a trip that had begun before dawn, expecting another 2-3 hour flight, I overheard a flight attendant mention that our flying time would be 5 hours. It was as if a switch had been flipped in my brain and nervous system. At the thought of another five hours of immobility, I had the physical sensation of not only being confined in too small a space, but also in my too small skin and mind. I felt paralyzed – and a little crazy.
My first strategy was to tell myself, “It’s just your thinking about the length of flight.” I believed it (sort of) but it didn’t make me feel any better. Then I remembered to breathe – slowly – which gave me the space and presence to realize what my body needed: to Get Out Of There. I shivered and shrugged off my sweater without really thinking, then realized that movement itself was Getting Out without causing a major disturbance – or possibly activating the sky marshals. I stood in place, I stretched, I jiggled. Instead of being frozen in panic, I felt the release of fleeing – while in flight.
The wave passed. I felt calm and even slept much of the time. Since then I have flown several times, and all was well. And if it hadn’t been smooth going, I knew I had an excellent body-based tool available: movement to disarm the “freeze” trauma response.
Freezing can have real short-term utility if one is a rabbit, gazelle, opossum, or sometimes a person in overwhelming circumstances. It’s not so useful when the response becomes stuck and creates a pattern of anxiety or panic, often in situations that seem minor in proportion to the anxiety they generate.
I have become aware that for me there is a strong relationship between feeling anxious (usually a cover fear, anger, or sadness) and the action of “freezing.” I have started playing with physical anti-freeze as a strategy for releasing those emotions. Dancing, running, singing, shadow boxing, or even imagining movements can get me Out of There. The anxiety dissipates as I thaw.
Aside from escaping across the savannah or going one on one against an adversary, how do you un-freeze? I’d love to hear your experiences and ideas.