The “Freeze” Branch of the Parasympathetic Nervous System

The “Freeze” Branch of the Parasympathetic Nervous System

Today’s video is about something VERY practical and useful to know about – that most people don’t know about.

Most of us are familiar with the idea that our body responds to the world with a “fight or flight” kind of response, if we run into a challenge.  And you may have learned that fight-or-flight is what the “Sympathetic Nervous System” does.

And then what most people are taught is that the Parasympathetic Nervous System steps in to calm things down and get us back into a “rest and digest” kind of state after a fight-or-flight experience.

However, there are actually TWO branches of the Parasympathetic Nervous System.  One of them is the “rest and digest” branch.

But… if a person or an animal was not able to successfully deal with the stress of the “fight or flight” situation – then they may have gone into a deeper, older branch of their Parasympathetic Nervous System as a way to cope – a branch that could be referred to as “freeze, faint, or shut down”.    And this is the part of the nervous system that very few people know about and understand.

This is a place our bodies go when things are really desperate – and/or our bodies sense there is no other way out.

This place can look like a full-on freeze, faint, or collapse.   OR – it can also show up in less dramatic ways, where a person or animal seems functional but kind of numb, glazed over, and/or not responsive socially in normal ways.

If a person or animal is LIVING over in a lower-intensity form of the “freeze” side of the Parasympathetic Nervous System (which is surprisingly common), this can have significant effects on the body – and the whole person – because it can affect their neuro-chemistry, digestion, social engagement, sensory awareness, ability to learn – and more.

So, they can seem calm and functional, but they are not in a healthy and well-regulated place.

In this video, I explain this a bit, with the help of the metaphor of a bridge.  And the world is very different, depending on which side of the bridge you are on!

Knowing this can help see, understand, say hello to, and work better with a person or animal who may be in some level of “freeze/shut down”.

This is a wee introduction.  There is much much more related to this.

But simply knowing about and recognizing this place/state is a HUGE first step – because it explains so much about why a person or animal may seem kind of normal but not really.

And it starts to open up new ways to understand what may need to happen for that person or animal to find more ease and health and rest.

If you have questions, or want to share your thoughts about this, get in touch. I love hearing from you!


Happy Exploring –

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About the Author:

Violet van Hees is a movement freedom specialist who works with people (and with horses) to release tightness and pain, and to transform body "stuckness" into something that you can work with. We then use what emerges to create new freedom and ease in your movement and in what you do, in ways that feel safe and reasonable - and that work - for you. Violet is a Feldenkrais® Practitioner, a Tellington TTouch® Equine Practitioner, and a BCRPA Trainer of Fitness Leaders. She works with a deep interest in and understanding of biomechanics, neuroplasticity, body response to trauma, energy work, and how we learn.


  1. EMMA RYAN June 8, 2019 at 9:04 pm - Reply

    Hi Violet, thank you this explains a lot and helps me make sense of certain situations.

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