3 Ways To Save Yourself From 'Functional Freeze Mode'

Feeling stagnant? Here's how to break free from the grip of inertia.

Mark Travers, Ph.D.

By Mark Travers, Ph.D. | March 22, 2024

The "functional freeze mode" is a mental, physical and emotional state where people find themselves immobilized by inertia, lacking the drive to pursue their goals or engage in activities that once brought them joy.

Its onset mode can stem from various factors. Stress, burnout, unresolved emotional issues and a lack of clear direction in life—all contribute to perpetuating this sense of stagnation. As responsibilities mount, individuals may withdraw from the world, retreating into a state of numbness and apathy.

The consequences of this state can be far reaching, impacting multiple facets of an individual's life. Relationships may suffer as communication wanes and social interactions become superficial. Work or academic performance may also decline. Over time, this pattern of avoidance and disengagement can undermine self-worth and contribute to mental health challenges such as depression and anxiety.

However, it's important to recognize that escaping the functional freeze mode is possible. Here are three strategies you can engage in to make intentional changes to your mindset and behavior.

1. Forest Bathing Or "Shinrin Yoku"

This practice stems from the Japanese tradition of immersing oneself in nature, particularly forests, for therapeutic benefits. Unlike activities centered on physical exertion, such as hiking, forest bathing emphasizes slowing down, engaging the senses and forging a deeper connection with nature. Participants are encouraged to stroll leisurely, breathe deeply and interact with their surroundings through meditation, mindful observation and sensory exploration. Research indicates that forest bathing can alleviate stress, elevate mood, bolster immune function and enhance overall well-being.

Here is how you can engage in shinrin-yoku:

  • Mindful forest walks. Deliberately amble through a natural forest environment, engaging all your senses. Notice the sights, sounds, scents, textures and even tastes of the forest. Attend to the rustling of leaves, the melody of birdsong, the earthy aroma of soil, the sensation of sunlight filtering through foliage and the purity of the air. Immerse yourself fully in the present moment, reveling in the beauty and serenity of the forest.
  • Forest meditation. Seek out a secluded spot in the forest where you can comfortably meditate. Close your eyes and focus on your breath, allowing yourself to unwind and release any pent-up tension or anxiety. Tune in to the natural sounds surrounding you, using them as focal points for your meditation practice. Envision yourself enveloped by the restorative essence of the forest, absorbing its revitalizing attributes with each inhalation and exhalation.

2. Sound Bathing

Sound baths offer a therapeutic gateway into deep relaxation and inner peace through immersion in sound vibrations. During a session, participants recline in a comfortable position as the facilitator plays soothing sounds using instruments like Tibetan singing bowls, gongs and tuning forks. These vibrations gently coax the nervous system into a state of tranquility, reducing stress and fostering harmony within the body and mind.

Research suggests that singing bowl sound meditation, rooted in Tibetan and Buddhist cultures, positively impacts mood, tension and overall well-being. Studies highlight physiological and psychological responses to singing bowl vibrations, including improved cardiovascular parameters and reduced negative affect.

To reap the benefits, consider attending a session led by a trained facilitator or explore guided sound bath recordings online. And don't forget to take a few moments to reflect on your experience. Notice any changes in how you feel physically, mentally or emotionally. Allow yourself to savor the sense of relaxation, clarity and rejuvenation that the sound bath has brought you.

3. Laughter Yoga

Laughter yoga is a unique form of exercise that combines laughter with yogic breathing techniques to promote physical, emotional and social well-being. In addition to its benefits in reducing stress and burnout, laughter yoga has proven effective in enhancing positive psychological capital and exercise capacity among patients with terminal illness.

Laughter yoga aids in escaping the freeze mode by employing several mechanisms.

  • Release of endorphins. Studies affirm that laughter prompts the release of endorphins, counteracting stress hormones to promote relaxation and uplift mood. By saturating the body with positivity, laughter helps individuals shake off the inertia induced by stress.
  • Activation of the parasympathetic nervous system. Research suggests that hearing laughter significantly stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, facilitating relaxation and stress reduction. This activation counteracts the fight-or-flight response associated with the freeze mode, inducing a state of calm and openness.
  • Promotion of social connection. Social support is crucial for overcoming the isolation and detachment often experienced in the freeze mode. By encouraging group interactions and playful engagement, laughter yoga sessions contribute to a sense of belonging. The resultant lighthearted and supportive environment nudges individuals to break through emotional barriers and reestablish connections with their surroundings.

These three strategies demand wholehearted presence, urging participants to immerse themselves fully in the moment. By tuning into their sensations and experiences, individuals break free from the grip of rumination and worry. This mindful practice redirects attention to the present, facilitating a transition from the stagnation of 'freeze mode' to a state of openness and active engagement with life itself.

Is worrying about mistakes you may or may not have made holding you back? Take the Mistake Rumination Scale to learn more.

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