Feeling Frozen?

One year. 365 days later. March 13, 2021 marked the one year since the day the world shut down (side note: this was also the day that my second grandson Eli was born, karma of that in another post :).

On that day in 2020, I was at Western Albemarle HS, where I coach Girls Tennis, and we were all sitting on the court at the end of practice, participating in a team building activity. Then we got word that the school was going to close for two weeks and there would be no more practice.

We had NO idea what was coming.

So fast forward a year. A strange, scary, messed up year. And on March 15, 2021 I went back to Western for the first time since March 13, 2020. It was surreal, and strange, and weird. I didn’t know how I would feel, and it definitely felt weird. Like we were still in the 2020 season. Like it was a strange time warp.

Maybe you are feeling that way too, as we start to do some of the things we used to do, as we creep back to activities that remind us of the way the world was before covid?

I recently listened to an episode of On Being, with Krista Tippett, and her guest was Christine Runyan, a clinical psychologist who shared about this weird feeling that many of us are having.

In brain terms, it’s common to talk about fight or flight, and how our sympathetic nervous system is always on guard and searching for danger, and trying to keep us safe. When it’s too activated, like if we are nervous, or anxious before a game or a test, we can use techniques and strategies to calm ourselves like conscious breathing, with long exhales that activate our parasympathetic nervous system which is the one that calms us. So with a long exhale we can send signals that we are okay and our high alert system will calm down. With things like tests or competitions, our nervous system reacts and then brings us back to balanced state, when the perceived threat diminishes.

But what if the threat does not go away, like all of last year, and the stress is just hanging out there?

That’s the freeze, the third aspect of the trifecta of fight, flight or freeze. This strange feeling of suspended animation, with a dash of fog, awkwardness, and nerves. According to Runyan, it’s actually a physiological state of high arousal, but may feel like numbing, apathy, detachment, disassociation. It’s our protective state, where our nervous system is constantly asking “is it safe yet,” “did it go away yet?”

And the answer is no, not yet. The cloud is still hanging there, and we are still assessing, and protecting, as we start to do more things. This was such a light bulb moment for me, to help me understand my disconnected feelings at a time when it seems like we are moving in the right direction, and there are so many more things for which to feel grateful.

It seems ironic to be consciously practicing long exhales with a mask on, but breathing is a most helpful tool and a go-to practice this year like never before. My mantra continues to be “Space and grace!” So I will continue to notice if my freeze is melting, be grateful for each day of this 2021 season, and savor each ‘mask-hale’ to find precious balance in the present moment.