Do you ever feel like you’ve been put on pause?

A therapist’s explanation of stress resonated with TikTok users after a patient shared their wise words in a recent post on the app.

“My therapist told me,” the user wrote in a recent text-based video with 2.7 million views. “The reason you are in bed rotting each day, won’t text people back and won’t leave the house is because you are stuck in ‘functional freeze’ after living with such extreme stress that your brain feels disassociated from your body, so even the simplest of tasks now feel overwhelming.”

While not a bona fide clinical diagnosis, “functional freeze” is a phenomenon many young people are saying they relate to.

“I have been stuck in the functional freeze for so long and I don’t know how to get out,” one person commented.

“Literally just thinking about going to the store feels overwhelming,” another shared.

“Literally every little thing I do now feels so overwhelming 😓,” a third echoed.

Similar terms such as “freeze response,” “autopilot mode” or “stress paralysis” have come up in mental health discourse on social media — all referring to anxious emotions which trigger unhealthy coping responses, such as inaction.

While people might experience a temporary freeze from time to time, experts are encouraging people to be mindful and look out for warnings of something more serious — though it may be hard to recognize initially.

“People are able to engage in kind of the bare minimum basic functioning, so still going to work and engaging with others, but performance may slip,” T.M. Robinson-Mosley, a counseling psychologist, told USA Today. “Relationships may not be as healthy or productive. Communication may be a challenge. You may cancel plans and it just is really difficult.”

Functional freeze also doesn’t happen overnight — it builds up over time like building blocks until it topples over.

“Everyday stress can build to a level that’s overwhelming for your body, but how that stress is expressed will be different for everyone,” said Miranda Nadeau, a licensed psychologist, adding that you might be in a functional freeze “if you find yourself mentally and physically stuck in place, going through the motions on autopilot.”

“Functional freeze allows you to continue going about your life, but in a robotic, disconnected way,” Nadeau explained. “It’s like your brain hits pause on emotional engagement to keep you operational in the short term.”

People who experience a functional freeze might also appear to be doing OK on the outside, but on the inside, they’re struggling.

“They may appear high functioning, socializing with others and keeping up the outward appearance of normalcy, yet internally they’re feeling emotionally numb, stuck and dissociated from the world around them,” Chase Cassine, licensed clinical social worker, shared with USA Today. “However, they’re going through the motions to ‘survive in life; not thrive in it.’”

It’s important to look at the signs of functional freeze in terms of frequency, intensity and time. If you’re freezing for two weeks or more, you might want to seek professional help.

“Functional freeze is not a clear diagnosis,” Mosley said. “It could simply be the indication that something else is happening,” such as a mental health condition.

“Functional freeze” is the latest mental health buzzword in an enduring trend that took off during the pandemic — a moment when the planet was united by the same existential tender — after terms like “bed rotting,” and the Scottish concept of “hurkle-durkling.”

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