Climate Conscious
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Climate Conscious

When You Are In Fight, Flight, or Freeze Mode It’s Difficult To Think

Considering your response is key to being effective and coping

Photo by Jonathan Ford on Unsplash

We human beings evolved to fight, flee, or freeze when in crisis mode.

Ongoing crises, like war, the climate crisis, the pandemic, and oppression are often slow. They are difficult for the human psyche to face. But, then, disasters also seem to strike at a moment’s notice.

It’s important to become mentally prepared.

What we see around us in the world today, is usually some version of fighting, fleeing, or freezing.

Some of our reactions are so automatic that we do not recognize them. To think about them, though, is useful.

There are rewards and benefits from all of these survival responses. However, there are also costs.

Fighting is what you often see when there is an enemy that can be identified. COVID-19 is just one example. Whole nations go to war, so to speak, and entities like the Center for Disease Control (CDC) or World Health Organization (WHO) ramp up their arsenal to cope with the pandemic. Red Cross, police, and military also step up to help. These also arm us when we face fires, floods, and storms.

Ukraine is a good example where we see all three responses in play at once. The trick is to not get so stuck in one response that we lose strength. There is even some overlap, and what you do to respond one second is quite different than what you do at another moment in time.

Paralysis — freezing — is what happens when a population, or controlling entity like government, is overwhelmed. They are flooded with contradictory information because some problems, like the climate crisis, are multifactorial. They touch every aspect of every life.

This article from 2011 about global leadership paralysis displays that freezing can last far too long.

A disinformation campaign begun decades ago has influenced a popular freeze technique: don’t change your lifestyle, or just change it a little bit. Don’t look at the lobbyists and influential powers behind the curtain, because you will feel both anger and victimization. These negative feelings do not win votes. Unfortunately, although polluting industries lead on the right, they also hugely influence the left, as well.

More people than ever, freeze their position, in the middle because they are disenchanted with polarization and politics.

The interest of business is profit, not progress. They will continue to use toxic fuel until green and clean fuel is more profitable.

This is beginning to happen as renewables are becoming more affordable, but at the same time, things like oil production, gas, coal, and the making of more plastics are ramping up. You may have noticed, for example, that there is more plastic packaging than ever before in food production, shipping, and sales.

Freezing, or what we might think of as distraction, or even acceptance, happens daily on a personal level. People continue to consume more than they can replace because it was the human habit for hundreds of thousands of years. We are also monitored and fed ads in every conceivable format.

Our once limitless resources do not yet feel so limited. Most of us do not make big efforts to curtail our consumption. We still eat lots of meat, waste food, create mountains of garbage, and take for granted conveniences like clothes, paper, lumber, and other resources.

To check in with your personal response to crisis, note whether each item you touch in a day is disposable, repairable, or renewable. Behave as if limits actually affect your life, time, self-image, family, and community.

Despite the constant selling of so much stuff, an underlying anxiety is growing. Supply chain woes are affecting daily lives. Distractions such as thousands of viewing entertainment options, gaming, and other tech toys are invading enough of our time that we more or less can refuse to acknowledge that we are “fighting, fleeing, or freezing.”

Yet, in some autonomic responses, many people are doing one, or all three of the flight, flight, or freeze behaviors. Many are rethinking where they spend time. We might work from home, or reduce car use in other ways, because the cost of gas is rising. People shop, and look for affordable food alternatives. They fight the system by either resisting, or supporting, popular stances.

Unfortunately, our positions on issues can be detrimental to our social effectiveness. We can all fight injustice best, for example, when we unite. When we are divided on issues such as voting, Black Lives Matter, #MeToo, gender rights, school lessons, and so much more, it is the culture wars and profiteers that win, not humanity.

Therefore, it is wise to stop and analyze what your motivations and actions really are.

If you feel like fighting for your cause, think about how, why, and what actions you can really control. For example, throwing out less food, or buying less junk, helps you pare down your burden, but also lets you feel a more powerful sense of control and freedom. If you feel your emotions are manipulated by advertising, inadequacy, or shallow cultural contests, think about how to take charge of your own emotions and put the energy to work.

Many people are on the move. How we choose where to live and work, where we go to school, and where we shop really does matter. People in low-lying parts of New York, Florida, or the hard-hit Gulf states must take considerable time to think about where to be.

If you feel paralyzed by fear, this is normal. Think about how you feel, and give yourself permission to have emotions and responses that are fully human. Note especially how you relate to others in the same boat. This is how community inter-dependence aids us in feeling we don’t have to be frozen and helpless. Get active in daily choices, but also in demanding better leaders.

We can be active and helpful to one another.



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Christyl Rivers, Phd.

Ecopsychologist, Writer, Farmer, Defender of reality, and Cat Castle Custodian.