This week I had a young woman come in with her mother and boyfriend, this young woman is an inspiration to us all. She has been battling with her childhood issues and severe demobilising anxiety for many years now. Anxiety is bad enough at any age in our lives, but when we should be living our lives to the full without the pressures of adult life, it is I feel an even harder situation to go through. We have been having sessions for a few months now and making great progress which is fabulous and I know this will only continue to grow for her. When we have anxiety, we can often feel that people don’t understand what is happening inside us and that our actions will be misunderstood. We can often feel at our worst, that we can’t fully connect with our loved ones and the people around us and we feel unable to let them in. Also, we can feel that people may take our actions personally and that this is something they have done rather than our anxiety and how we are struggling at the moment. If someone hasn’t experienced anxiety how can we get them to understand how we are feeling inside? How can we explain what is happening inside at those moments? How can we get our loved ones to help us when we can’t seem to even help ourselves?
These are often the things which can run through our minds when we are struggling with our anxiety and depression, which can at times lead us deeper into our anxiety, detaching us further from the people we love. I must say that my client and her boyfriend are brave young people to come in and ask to try and understand ways to help them both move through this, navigating their relationship with the issues of anxiety and depression. You might have been wondering why I called this blog bunny; I am getting to this part know. I do spend a lot of time talking to my clients in analogies I think for me they help me explain more easily whatever point I am trying to get across. With my client’s severe anxiety, at times, she can become immobilised and frozen in fear, this was often exasperated by the fear of what people would think of her being this way. Her boyfriend who has always been very accepting of her issues has never suffered any form of anxiety or mental health issues, has struggled to understand how she is feeling inside and what he can do to help.
I wanted to help them all understand just how bad this part of the anxiety and depression can be and how trapped and immobilised we can feel inside, so I used the analogy of the rabbit. Rabbits are amazing at using the freeze response in the fight, flight and freeze survival mechanisms to help them stay alive. When rabbits and certain other animals are threatened by predators but are unable to fight or flee, they use the freeze response to play dead. The freeze response is a reaction to trauma and is a super powerful survival technique. They do this because many predators require a chase and/or fight to stimulate their hunger, and in its absence, they simply lose interest. By freezing this way, the rabbits are able to survive situations that would otherwise lead to certain death.
Once the need for playing dead has passed and the predator has lost interest and wandered off, the rabbit will literally shake off the trauma they just survived and bounce back to life. This process of releasing the after-effects of trauma from their bodies prevents long term damage to their mental, emotional, and physical states. This freeze response is an equally instinctive survival technique in humans as well as rabbits, when we feel powerless against an attack, whether that be a physical or emotional attack. Unfortunately, until we have healed and shaken the trauma off, or release the trauma from the body our primitive brain can remain stuck, to varying degrees, in a traumatised state. For many people with severe anxiety, we find we revisit this place and continue to get stuck in this demobilised state.
After explaining this to my client and her boyfriend I could see how both of them could understand more about what was happening at these times when the anxiety was becoming too overwhelming for her to deal with. We then looked at ways to help her come out of this state, I said well you can’t shake the bunny awake which of course for all of us in the room was a hilarious analogy to be thinking of. But on a more serious note, we can’t try and pull someone out of this frozen state it will only make our primitive mind hold onto the fear even more. For rabbits we have to leave them alone, after a bit of time, they can then sense the danger is gone and then they bounce back to life. For us humans, we do need that space to be able to shake ourselves out of this state but we also need to know that people understand us and that we know that they are there for us. As human’s our emotions are at the basis of our internal fears and this is what governs our internal mindset, if we are left in a fearful state all we breed is fear. What we truly need is to know we are loved, supported and understood; with this knowledge, we can feel safe to switch off that negative mental dialogue. After we have done this, we are then starting the process of returning back into that place of safety and security within ourselves, then we can come back into the moment.
For most of us, our fears are not predators trying to eat us, they are our thoughts and inner fears that are overwhelming us. If we change states from being frozen by us getting out of our own heads, this helps us to stop us from doing our own heads in and in turn, we can start to break that cycle. We can’t be shaken into this we have to choose to do this and for the people that live with people suffering anxiety, make them feel safe and then find the carrot to entice them back out into the moment. I can’t tell you what that carrot might be as we’re all different and what works for one person doesn’t for another.
Make this week, the week you let your nearest and dearest know how much you love, value and support them, it’s time to share the love.
Thanks for dropping by Sara x