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Flight in Flight – an Anti-”Freeze” Tool

Posted Jul 14 2011 7:00am

This post was written by Ann Burrish, an Endorsed Healthy Life Mind-Body Coach .  She can be reached for consults and coaching at ann@thehealthylifecoach.com .

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.

May your emotional energy find its motion,

Ann

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