“It is not the strongest or the most intelligent who will survive but those who can best manage change.”
Imagine you are walking in a dark alley and you suddenly hear a very loud sound or you are crossing the road and suddenly a truck comes in front of you. What will you do in such a situation? Before you decide what to do, don’t you just stand there all frozen up not knowing what to do? This feeling of being numb or frozen in that very moment is called as Freezing behavior, which is an ancient behavior seen in humans and animals alike. When do we use this behavior?
Remember the History lessons from school which taught us about the lifestyle of our ancestors. Acting Dead or Freeze, was one of the successful ways of saving themselves when they saw or were attacked by a deadly animal like a tiger or lion. The chances of you getting attacked or killed then reduce drastically.
What is Freeze Reaction
Freeze is a part of the famous three Fs- Freeze, Flight, and Fight which is our body’s automatic response to save ourselves from any threat. But often Freeze has been largely ignored as it’s assumed that freezing or not reacting is not an action. But in reality not reacting or going numb is also an action.
Think back to your first interview when the interviewer asked you a question which you were not expecting or didn’t know the answer of how your heart rate just increased, blood pressure was high, your pupils dilated and suddenly your energy level was very high making you ready for fight or flight. But this comes after the freezing behavior. In general discussions of how our body responds, the focus is so much on fight and flight that many a time people just skip freeze. But they don’t realize that it’s the first response that we give and after that comes to fight and flight.
Let’s see where the origin of these reactions is. You guessed it correctly our brain is responsible for it or more precisely our Limbic system. It is one of the oldest parts of the brain and it has helped us survive over centuries. Yes, that old. The limbic system is the emotional center of our brain, also called the “honest brain”. These reactions are easy to catch as our Limbic system being honest is prone to emotional leaks, and thus we end up knowing a lot about a person from the way their body reacts through their feet, torso, arms, hands, faces, and much more.
At the time when our brain evolved to respond to help us survive in the jungles, we learned to freeze on the spot because that often meant we could escape the attention of the animal which was passing by, and could probably attack us. No movement as happens when we freeze, meant the animal’s senses could not pick us up. This probably might remind you of the story of the two friends and the bear where one of the friends escapes by pretending to be dead when the bear tries to sense him.
Is Freeze still relevant?
This ancient behavior of Freeze is also seen in current times. What this means is we still freeze up in situations, like when we come face to face with a deadly animal or during terrorist attacks be it school, or public places people freeze for saving themselves. There have been reports of school students who froze to save themselves. During the recent Paris attack, a female froze up for over an hour to save herself.
We also freeze up in day-to-day situations like accidents where we can be a victim or just a spectator leading to changes in our bodies. Any sudden unexpected change like getting a phone call in the middle of the night or a bell ringing on the door of your home. Or you are waiting on the platform for the train and suddenly there is a change in the platform before deciding to run you freeze.
The Poker Face
Poker face which people put up on their faces assuming that they are able to hide their real emotions by keeping an expressionless face. Do you think it works? No, because remember our honest Limbic system give away a lot of cues regarding our behavior, governs our facial expressions too. Due to which the Poker face also gives us ample cues or tells of different forms or types which tell a lot about the person. In short, it doesn’t work.
Similarly in a staff meeting, say your boss criticizes you as the content of the meeting was not up to the mark in front of everyone and suddenly all the eyes are at you and everyone is looking at you for an answer. What happens then? You just stand there and don’t give any reaction. Next time, remember that by not trying to move at all, you are giving some indication of what’s going on in your mind to your boss.
When freeze can become a problem
We tend to freeze up in situations such as disasters or if we are a victim of assault. There is good research support that summarises how people freeze during natural disasters like floods, earthquakes, ice storms, or manmade disasters like industrial explosions and how freezing behavior has caused evacuation delays increasing the danger by delaying rescue operations. It’s also shown that freezing behavior delays the treatment of psychological disorders. We may also freeze up when we are having a conversation and suddenly a new person who may befriend, stranger, or an authority figure enters and we lose our chain of speaking.
Those of us who can analyze situation changes quickly and react to them become better at dealing with the freeze response where it cannot be of much use and switch to the more effective responses of flight or fight. Meaning we understand that hiding from sight will not help us solve our problem so our brain then takes the action of either just running away from there or else standing ground and fighting back.
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