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Releasing the Freeze Response with Essential Oils

By Jodi Cohen

A woman holding a white sign.

Our bodies are designed for survival.   This means that your brain and your nervous system are constantly monitoring your environment, searching for signs of danger.  Any internal or external threat to your survival triggers your nervous system to either fight, flee or freeze.

I talk a lot about the “fight or flight” Sympathetic state of your Autonomic Nervous System, along with the “rest, digest and heal” Parasympathetic state of your nervous system.  As I continue to unravel my own trauma surrounding the death of my son Max, I am beginning to understand how the “freeze” response lays the foundation for unresolved emotional trauma and related health concerns.

To fully understand the freeze response, it is important to understand how your body assesses, prioritizes and supports the following survival options:

Fight:  If you assess a danger as something you potentially have the power to defeat, your body drops into “fight” mode.  Your sympathetic nervous system releases hormones like adrenaline which prime you for battle.

Flight:  If you the danger is too powerful to overcome, your body prepares you to flee.  Your system shifts resources and blood flow to the extremities and shuts down all functions not critical to your immediate survival (like digestion, detoxification, immune function, reproduction and rational thinking) so you can escape the danger at hand.

Freeze:  If you can neither defeat the dangerous opponent nor safely flee from it, your body drops into the self-paralyzing freeze response.   This can present as being temporarily unable to move, spacing out, or ‘going out body’ in cases where neither fight nor flight are viable options.  In these situations, your body does not release the hormones to help you fight or flee, but instead causes you to “freeze up” or “numb out”.   Your body releases chemicals that function as an analgesic, dulling the intensity and the pain of any mental, physical or emotional injury.  This allows you to survive the enormity of what’s happening to you and survive the trauma.  If you can’t make a dangerous individual or situation disappears, you’re much better off “disappearing” yourself, by blocking out what’s much too scary to take in.


Releasing the Energy of the Freeze Response

All three of these states – fight, flight and freeze – require your nervous system to shift into a highly energized state.  The acts of fighting and fleeing allow your nervous system to discharge this energy and move back into a state of normal function.

The freeze state does not allow us to naturally discharge this energy and that trapped energy, along with the corresponding thoughts and emotions of fear or panic, can stay trapped in your body, contributing to a perpetual state of high alert in the brain and nervous system.

In nature, animals often shake or experience rhythmic waves of muscle contractions when they come out of freeze response.    As humans, we often override or avoid the trembling or shaking that would help drain off the energy of the freeze response, leading to ongoing activation of the sympathetic nervous system.  When your body is stuck in the freeze response, it can present “paralyzing” symptoms like panic attacks, obsessive-compulsive behaviors, avoidance behaviors or other phobias, spaciness, numbing out and other anxiety states.


3 Essential Oils for Releasing the Freeze Response 

The freeze response can trigger a disassociation so that you don’t feel pain.  It can also cause you to lose connection to our four senses, including the sense of smell.  The sense of smell and essential oils can be a powerful tool to help thaw the freeze response and restore our ability to sense our environment.


1.  Parasympathetic 

Parasympathetic® is critical in recovering from a Freeze Response.  It calms the nervous system and helps us be present to the moment, to both your own body and to others. This sense of embodiment and safety can prevent future Freeze Responses.  Apply Parasympathetic® over the vagus nerve (behind the earlobe on the mastoid bone) to activate the vagus nerve.  This helps  discharge energy and shift out of the freeze state into the healing Parasympathetic.


2. Breathe

Breathe™: The respiratory system is both involuntary, but can also be voluntarily controlled. Your breath can regulate all the other autonomic systems, including brain function. When you control and change the way you breathe, can release and discharge the freeze response from the nervous system.  Breathe™ blend opens and soothes the physical airways to allow for enhanced oxygen intake. Breathe™ can be inhaled or topically applied over the lungs before yoga to optimize breath.  Breathe™ contains hot oils and should be diluted with another oil (like coconut oil or olive oil) prior to topical application.


3.  Adrenal

Adrenal®:  Balancing your adrenal glands helps you ground so that you can then discharge the excess energy of the freeze response.  Your adrenal glands create balance within the systems of the body/mind and help direct how that balance resonates through our whole experience of life.  Smell Adrenal® blend through the left nostril or apply over the low back to help discharge excess energy from the Freeze response.  Read More about Grounding with Essential Oils HERE.



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About The Author

Jodi Cohen

Jodi Sternoff Cohen is the founder of Vibrant Blue Oils. An author, speaker, nutritional therapist, and a leading international authority on essential oils, Jodi has helped over 50,000 individuals support their health with essential oils.