Get a Gentle Move On
A very normal response (often the only response) to trauma is for the nervous system to go into freeze (aka faint or collapse). The freeze state is in the Dorsal Pathway of the Vagus Nerve. In freeze, the body systems are shutting down (pulse rate decreases, body temperature lowers, facial affect is flat, etc.) in an attempt to survive an overwhelming experience. Animals will go into this state if they have been overwhelmed by a predator. If an animal happens to somehow survive (perhaps the predator is distracted or chased away) it will come out of its freeze state by increasing its breathing and shaking its body, such as in this short video.
Notice in that video that it wasn’t until the Impala was safe that it came out of it’s collapsed state. The same is true for us. The first step in coming out of a freeze state is to find or create as much safety as possible. When unresolved trauma is activated and you notice yourself shutting down, do what you can to create safety. Bring to mind resources – people and things you feel safe with – to help you feel safe, and reassure the part of you that is holding the unresolved trauma that’s going to be OK (it’s also helpful to tell yourself that this is an implicit memory you are experiencing so that you can witness it rather than identify with it).
Once you’ve done what you can to create safety, gently increase your breath and experiment with moving your body, starting with whatever you can do: rocking, pushing your feet into the floor, shaking, walking, etc. If you are unable to do any movement, please be compassionate with yourself and let your resources and your compassionate witness hold you just as you are. We all have limits to what we can do on our own and need support when we reach those limits.
Animals in the wild instinctively know how to release trauma, which is lucky for them. They shake it out and get back to their lives. Humans need support to work through traumatic experiences. When we don’t receive that support, the trauma remains stuck in our bodies and psyches until we have the tools and help we need to release it. Due to the trauma they carry, some people live with almost constant Fight/Flight or Freeze activation, to varying degrees. Most of us carry Attachment Trauma, which can make an intimate relationship hard on the nervous system if there aren’t tools and support for integrating the trauma and a place of healing if there is.