11 Signs You're Living In Functional Freeze Mode

How our unconscious actions save and hurt us.

woman in functional freeze mode Wildan Zainul Faki / Pexels via Canva

Ever feel like you’re struggling through your day-to-day life? Looking put together on the outside, but feeling completely disconnected and overwhelmed on the inside?

If this sounds familiar, you’re not alone. Lots of people live in functional freeze mode without even realizing it.

Luckily, fitness instructor Liz Tenuto breaks down the common signs of being stuck in freeze mode, allowing you to recognize if you’re truly stuck.




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11 Signs You're Stuck In Functional Freeze

1. You’re exhausted but you stay up late.

At two in the morning, with work looming the next day, you toss and turn in bed, increasingly exhausted. But despite your best efforts, sleep never comes.


According to licensed social worker Elizabeth LaCraze, signs of functional freeze mode tend to manifest into chronic fatigue and sleep apnea.



2. You appear motivated but emotionally hanging on by a thread.

On the outside you’re motivated but, on the inside, you’re just trying to keep it together. Bay Area CBT Center writes, “On an emotional level, it can feel like being lost at sea, with feelings of shock, anger, or fear, and a sense of disconnection.”

However, despite this inner turmoil, our bodies function normally, driven by the need to survive. And when we go into survival mode, our bodies unconsciously carry out actions that ensure our survival, which can include appearing motivated.


3. You can make a vet appointment for your pet but haven’t been to the doctor in years.

Even when you’re struggling mentally, your pets always come first. Whether it’s your dog, cat, or bird, their wants and needs are your top priority.

Unconsciously, our bodies understand our responsibilities, leading us to prioritize them. We make these decisions on autopilot because we consider these responsibilities more important to our overall well-being.

However, when we devote all our energy to others, be it people or animals, we’re often left with nothing for ourselves. This is why those in functional freeze mode likely haven’t seen a doctor in a few years.

4. You brush your teeth in the morning but rarely at night.

By the time you're home, you’re so tired that all you’re thinking about is sleep. Collapsing onto your bed, you shut your eyes, only to remember that you forgot to brush your teeth.


According to counselor Sarah Sibert, “Feeling tired and sleeping more are common signs that you are in freeze mode.”

Consequently, when you find yourself constantly tired, you’re less likely to brush your teeth at night, says Tenuto.

5. You respond to messages from your co-workers but not from friends.

When was the last time you texted your friends and family? If you’re struggling to respond, chances are you’re stuck in functional freeze mode.

According to Sibert, you’ll likely find yourself at home because you have no energy for social interactions. This may explain why you dodge your best friend's phone call when you get home from work.


But our brains understand that we can’t exactly dodge a phone call from our co-workers. We need to work to make money and survive, after all.

So, unconsciously, this is why you may find yourself picking up the phone for a coworker and not a friend.

6. You smile in public but fall apart at night.

The number one motto for those stuck in freeze mode is, "Fake it until you make it."

In the public eye, these people are all smiles and laugh. They’re sweet, kind, and hardworking. They never raise their voice, and they have excellent manners.

But when they get home you better believe they’re screaming into their pillow and falling apart. But they just can’t help themselves! The only time they can truly be their authentic selves is when they’re alone.




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7. You want to eat healthy but order delivery every night.

“I’ll cook tomorrow,” you say confidently. But what tends to happen the next day? More often than not, you’re ordering takeout and binge-watching your favorite Netflix show.

The reality is you’re over-extending your energy at work. So, when you get home your energy is so depleted that the only thing left you can do is order takeout, says Tenuto.


8. You’re high achieving but emotionally numb.

Being successful and high achieving isn’t new for someone who’s high functioning. According to licensed counselor Joe Nemmers, feeling numb is a direct result of functional freeze mode.

He explains, “Our brain shuts down as a protective response to keep us safe when our system is overloaded.”

And when we push ourselves beyond our limits to meet our goals, it leads to our energy depleting and emotional well-being deteriorating over time.

9. You’re social at work but turn down every invite from friends.

Have you found yourself dodging your friend's invites lately? According to Tenuto, this is a sign that you’re high functioning.


Listen, you’re barely hanging on as it is, and the thought of socializing drains you further. But, despite this, you still push yourself to be present and social at work. Why is this?

Once again, this ties in with survival mode. Your body knows how to keep you going unconsciously, and sadly hanging out with friends isn’t on the priority list.

10. You show up to events but never feel genuinely present.

Those who are high-functioning struggle to socialize at events. And it’s because feeling numb equates to feeling disconnected, explains Nemmers.


When we feel disconnected, we may struggle with feeling present during events. Which is why relying on friends and family for support becomes crucial, writes Nemmers.

11. You binge TV shows but have no idea what’s reopening.

Are you unable to think clearly? According to Bay Area CBT, difficulty concentrating is another sign of being high functioning. People who are high functioning feel tense 24/7.

Through this, their anxiety gets out of control to the point that they can’t focus on anything else around them. If you catch yourself watching TV when you’re stuck in freeze mode, chances are you’re so stressed and anxious that you don’t even notice what happening on the screen or around you, says Tenuto.

Getting out of freeze mode isn’t easy.




However, by recognizing the signs that you might be stuck in functional freeze mode, you can start to develop healthier coping mechanisms to deal with it and eventually break free from it.

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Marielisa Reyes is a writer with a bachelor's degree in psychology who covers self-help, relationships, career, and family topics.