Experts warn more people are living in ‘functional freeze mode’ with signs that are hard to spot


Sometimes, you’ve got no choice but to simply get through the day as best you can – even though you’d have happily dragged the covers back over your head when your alarm went off.

Us humans are extremely interesting creatures who have the ability to seem completely sane from the outside, even when chaos is erupting inside your head – and experts have a term which describes it perfectly.

We’ve all heard of the fight, flight, freeze or fawn response when we’re in a traumatic situation, but obviously, these emotions eventually fade away…except some people become paralysed in the ‘freeze’ mindset.

But somehow, they can still appear pretty calm physically to other people and can complete their daily tasks – which is why this feeling has been dubbed ‘functional freeze mode’.

Those who have experienced it have described it as feeling both ‘tired and wired’, according to Counselling Directory, explaining they have both heightened anxiety levels and a lack of desire to do things.

Signs that you may be in functional freeze mode include ongoing low-level anxiety, a desire to isolate yourself, a lack of motivation to care for yourself, procrastination, exhaustion and feeling disconnected from your feelings and the world.

Although it may be hard to spot, keep tabs on whether you notice your brain seemingly ‘freezing’ to protect itself.

According to nervous system practitioner and author of The Secret Language of the Body Jennifer Mann, you can melt yourself out of this mindset if you put the work in, but the first step is understanding it.

Speaking to Stylist, she explained: “Because our nervous system hasn’t evolved to keep up with the fast pace of modern life, our brains can interpret this flood of information as a threat – shutting down as a protective measure.”

So if you’re stuck in functional freeze mode, why not try out these handy tips to help you thaw out?


There’s fewer simple pleasures in life than humming a catchy tune – but did you know it could really help you calm down if you’re feeling yourself slipping into a frozen state?

Humming and other somatic practices – which are short exercises that stimulate the vagus nerve which controls the body’s ‘rest and digest’ response – can trigger the release of various calming hormones and neurotransmitters, Mann says.

This in turn reduces the stress hormone cortisol, which is what is responsible for ‘keeping us in a state of overwhelm’.

Mann recommends humming a low-pitched ‘voo’ sound for the best effects.

She added: “Research has found that the vibration of the vocal cords stimulates the muscles in the back of the throat, activating the vagus nerve and bringing on the beneficial calming effects.”

Go barefoot

The last thing you think about doing while experiencing mental turmoil is kicking your shoes and socks off, but it turns out that going barefoot could be very beneficial for those who are in functional freeze mode.

Letting your tootsies breathe and touch the cold hard ground can actually help calm you down and bring your attention back to your body.

Known as ‘grounding’, it’s another somatic technique which helps to chill your nervous system out as the sensation of feeling the world under your feet reminds you to return to the present moment.

Mann explained: “When we consciously walk barefoot on natural surfaces like grass or sand, our brain is stimulated by the sensory receptors in thousands of nerve endings in our feet.

“The survival state causes us to feel disconnected from our body as a way of self-protection, so anything we can do to anchor our brain back to the here and now can help reduce feelings of numbness and derealisation.”


You’re going the right way for a good hiding if you suddenly start incessantly tapping – but if you’re trapped in functional freeze mode, you’ve got a get out of jail free card.

According to Mann, a little thing called emotional freedom techniques (EFT) tapping could drag you out of your brain fog by helping to neutralise your nervous system while you’re in a panic.

She explained that it works similarly to acupuncture, but without all the thin needles.

The author said: “The skin is an organ too, which has many nerve endings that connect to the brain.

“EFT tapping is based on the same energy and meridian system used in acupuncture, where we use our fingers to gently tap on specific parts of the skin to stimulate calming messages to the brain’s limbic system.

“These meridian points are considered passageways where energy flows in the body, helping to release pent-up stressful emotions that cause the freeze response.”

Find the source

Plenty of problems can crop up during your day which have the potential to completely derail your positive mindset, so ensuring that you’ve sorted out all the potential stresses in your life is a great place to start.

It’s more than likely that there is an underlying issue which is triggering you into functional freeze mode, so finding the source of the problem is essential to overcoming it.

Mann suggests trying therapy and checking in with your GP, especially if it is impacting your day-to-day life.

She added: “Therapy can be really helpful for understanding the deeper causes of stress and the symptoms it causes, such as freeze mode. A qualified therapist can help you to work out what’s fuelling the issue, and provide tools and techniques to help bring your brain back to a place where it feels safe and grounded.”

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