Finding a Way out of Fight, Flight, and Freeze Response

Our bodies and minds are experiencing the current global crisis as a serious threat to survival and all that feels familiar and safe. Living in a constant state of fight, flight, or freeze is exhausting. We must find ways to release this stress on a daily basis. Connect with friends and family, exercise, knit, scream into a pillow, dance, practice mindfulness, see your therapist via telehealth, pet your cat, let yourself cry, and talk about how you are really feeling inside. Find what works for you so that the stress and turmoil do not take up more permanent residence in your body. You deserve and need to rest and refuel. Here are some ways therapists at Wildflower are finding release and refuge from stress during these trying times:

Kate: I go for a socially distanced walk with my dog, work on a puzzle, or some type of craft activity to keep my hands busy, and quiet my mind. If I find my worries attempting to get the best of me, I reach for Pema Chodron’s book “When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times.” This book offers tools and insights to facilitate grounding and ease during times of pain and hardship.

Aga: I sing old songs that I associate with campfires, happy times, and long summer hikes in the mountains. When my mind begins to turn to worries about when and if such carefree moments will return, I ground myself in my favorite mindfulness exercise: mountain meditation. It never fails to bring me a sense of peace.

Rosemary: Getting exercise has been the most helpful thing for me, especially for venting anxiety and frustration. When that includes walks with my dog, we are both happy! Noticing the signs of spring has been comforting ( at least something is “normal”!). I’ve had more trouble concentrating/reading, but Tara Brach’s podcast and website have been helpful at night. Anything funny helps; I have spent a lot of time on YouTube looking at funny animal videos and memes. Asking myself: “What’s NOT wrong?” is always grounding for me.

Alex: Each day, I make sure to move my body — preferably outdoors to breathe in some fresh air. Waving to neighbors from afar and nodding in solidarity helps remind me that we’re all in this together! When I’m experiencing a particularly tough day, I’ll take to cleaning and organizing my living space while listening to lighthearted podcasts; finding solace in familiar activities always brings me back to myself.

Jessica: Some of the tools I’ve found most helpful during these times are: using the Calm app for a meditation, going for a walk outside, taking a hot bath while listening to a podcast, and calling a loved one to connect. When I’m getting really stuck, I’ll ask my partner for a 20 second bear hug to release some of the tension in my body. In moments when my partner isn’t available, I’ve included my kids by asking them to sit on my back while I lay on the floor. This silly act usually results in both released tension and laughter.

Elizabeth: I’m finding myself trying to balance “productivity” that feels helpful, with restorative care during these strange times. I am re-thinking the way I’m viewing exercise and physical movement as I know it’s helping my body and my mind. It certainly looks different these days compared to leaving my home to go to a workout class and now may be 20-30 minutes of gentle stretching or getting my heart rate up in my living room — and that’s okay! Additionally, I’m turning inward more often by noticing if I’m shaming myself for not doing more, and giving myself permission to find stillness whether that is watching a comedy, meditating, or reading a book.

Emma: I bake, call a friend, journal, or watch a funny TV show. When things feel overwhelming, I turn on a meditation through the Calm app or Headspace. Headspace is offering some free meditations for the public during this time and free access to Headspace Plus for healthcare workers.

Paige: I find some way to connect with my body, whether that is moving through a yoga flow, walking around the block, or doing some gentle stretching. This can be incredibly healing when feeling over-activated.

Anna: I find that working out has been the most helpful. I have been doing virtual Pure Barre classes, which helps me feel more connected to my “normal” routine. I have also found calling/face timing with close family and friends has also helped release some stress, and ease my mind.

Talia: During a time where we feel so restricted, I have found shifting my mindset towards what I CAN do to be helpful in making space for meeting my needs. Keeping a flexible routine filled with self-care and connection has been a nurturing staple. I love starting my day off with a meditation from the Calm app or Tara Brach’s website. I make sure to take time during the day to move and connect with my body– whether that be gentle stretching, exercising, or a spontaneous dance party with my dog– and to feel the air outside, even if for just a moment. Finally, I like to end my day with activities that bring me joy and comfort: cooking, doing a puzzle, wrapping myself in a blanket, and connecting with loved ones.

Despite the limitations created by the coronavirus pandemic, there are many ways to release the accumulated tension and stress. The first and most important step is to recognize that devoting time and energy to doing so is vital, no matter how stretched or overwhelmed we already feel. We often hold ourselves to unreasonable expectations, taking our bodies and minds for granted, as though they ought to function optimally with minimal upkeep. Fortunately, it is never too late to modify this approach. Take the first step today. It will make a difference!