When Immobilizing Anxiety Comes Up During Conflict-A Few Tips To Calm Down The Body and Mind.
When anxiety comes up during conflict within our intimate relationship or other types of relationships, we may actually have a lower brain reaction which sends us into flight/fight/freeze. This can look like the brain sending signals to the appropriate glands and giving us a rush of stress hormones throughout the nervous system. These hormones cause a visceral (physical) reaction.
So say you have an anxious attachment style and you are afraid of rejection in your intimate relationship, you may freeze (literally feel stuck physically) until the situation is resolved and you know the relationship is safe. As long as the relationship doesn’t feel safe, however, you may stay stuck- feel lead footed, or even totally immobile. If freeze- the lower end of the brain stem reaction- isn’t what your brain turns to, and you mobilize into flight or fight, you may not be able to calm the body down until the situation is resolved somehow and the emotional, now converted to physical, energy is satisfied.
It is always best to have a support person to help you come out of it and literally mobilize again, but that is not always available. One way to get unstuck from the frozenness without help is to hold yourself, literally hug yourself, maybe even rock if needed to produce self nurturance. Breath out and in deeply and slowly for several seconds. Ground yourself by feeling your chair or the floor and your body- feel your breath, and your body. Tell yourself merciful, kind things, self validate with kindness (I'll explain why in a moment).
A familiar and safe voice is important if there is a way to find them at that time. We reach as young as infants, so it’s completely reasonable we’d reach out now. Reaching out to your partner is important too, if they are a safe person to turn to in that moment. If your speech isn’t available yet, because you’ve experienced a turning off of that part of the executive brain, then turn to movement if you can. If your safe person can hug you and rub your back and rock you, go toward that. That safe person’s voice, calmer heart beat and slower respiratory track are beneficial to the immobilized person. Hold them if you can for at least 30 seconds. The partner soothing should be calm, and able to connect with kind words and warmth. Make eye contact and tell the person who is dysregulated what they must be feeling. It is important to speak to the lower and mid-brain and right brain in words those parts of the brain understands. When executive functioning is "off," the brain is in a different place and unable to conceptualize logic. So we must speak in ways it can comprehend, that part of the brain can generally understand emotions. What will not benefit it are more harmful words, or judgements which will only escalate the anxiety and brain status.
If you are feeling like your body has been sent into fight mode or flight mode, it’s important to use that energy. No, you can’t go for a drive maybe as you might feel like speeding or doing something dangerous while desiring to fight or run, but you can take a fast paced walk or run. No, you can't hit a person or a wall, but you can hit a punching bag. You can journal and in doing so, write in as big and scratchy letters as you need to to get out your feelings for yourself, and to self validate, share your feelings with yourself. Tell yourself soothing words and say kind overtures over yourself. Get out a canvas and paint huge strokes in colors coordinated to your feelings.
So when others aren't available, self validate to self regulate (going back to baseline emotions and back to prefrontal functioning). When safe others are available seek co-regulation as described above.