Did I Crack Up or Shut Down -what’s the diff?

With a Crack Up our body gets ACTIVATED for Fight or Flight

With a Shut Down our body SLOWS DOWN with a Freeze survival reaction.

It’s important to spot the difference because we ground our body differently for either…

Tracking the difference means we can get back on track quicker!

Often we don’t notice the difference between a crack up or shut down, just feel stressed, and there’s good reason for not noticing. When we get stressed enough to go into survival mode, all our attention gets focused on the threat, and we don’t notice what is happening in our bodies. We get a repeated blind spot. Workshop after workshop, as I start to describe the difference, a light bulb of recognition suddenly flashes on with everyone. Why? -Because we can live it many times a day. We just haven’t put it into words before!

What we don’t know we can’t control. But the opposite is true too! So let’s figure out how to tell the difference.


Stress & focus (4)OK, back to the plains of Africa or deserts of Australia…

When there’s a threat we can stay and fight, or run like hell. And if we can’t get away, play possum. That’s playing dead. The strategy behind playing dead is when the predator thinks they’ve won, they relax their death grip to get a better one…

Fight & Flight

Fight and Flight is what we DO, but what’s happening in our head is a stress Crack Up.

Fight and Flight require all energy mobilised to our body -heart pumping, blood flow to muscles, you name it.

It gets supercharged with a strong emotion, like rage or fear to intimidate or propel. It’s totally physiological -before we even have time to think. In fact, our thinking brain is offline and we’re in total automatic.


Freeze is a Shut Down, where the body becomes less activated -our thinking does too, gets a kind of blank, scattered quality.

The Freeze response is physiological, happening at the level of the body. But it’s the opposite, it’s there to mimic death. Cold, clammy, pale, floppy, lifeless… This is our wiring folks and it’s happening many times a day. Certainly not to the life-threatening extremes -but lots of different versions of it.

Urban Crack Up

Here’s a boring non-jungle example: I got a phone call from work about a report I’d written. In it, it raised concerns about the lack of action in a case I was consulting on.

“They aren’t happy with what you’ve said and want it changed”.

Some of the changes were easy as once more information was supplied they were the right thing to do. In other parts of the report, I was concerned that it was pulling punches rather than stating the truth. I felt a bit conflicted, started to get a bit irritated and dig my heels in. The tone of my voice became more assertive, even over the phone my posture changed a bit and I started getting resentful of the person requesting the changes -a stranger to me and feeling combative. My colleague and I came to an agreement on the best way to solve the issue that I was happy with, but over the next few hours, I kept returning to the situation in my mind and getting huffy. Yep, that was a mild fight reaction. Now, throughout all of this, I was unaware of my body. But it was revving up, getting ready for a physical fight -tense muscles, thoughts speeding up to my next move, anger in the form of irritability starting to mount, faster breathing, flaring nostrils. Because I was so busy focusing on the threat -the contents of the dispute and arguments for and against -I UN-focused on my body, I missed the subtle Fight response.

Well actually I didn’t, I’ve learned to Track the warning signals, with my most sensitive one being rising irritability. At that point, I recognized I had moved into a fight response, took a deep breath, calmed down and once I felt I was clear in the head and more settled in my body, thought it through logically.

Urban Shut Down

The other I was going to a meeting with my writing coach. She’s a great writer and a great friend. I’m trying to finish my book and am finding it hard -really hard. I’m mildly dyslexic and find it very difficult to get what’s in my head on the paper. There’s a dyslexic back story of struggling in class, not understanding why I can’t do what’s asked and bitter disappointment in what I could achieve with my writing. It’s held me back so many times. On the way to our session, I started to feel headachy and tired. A sense of dread was lurking around the edges and my thinking was starting to feel foggy.

By the time we sat down to work I was feeling pretty hopeless and fighting back tears. This was crazy! Irrational…I was in a supported environment being helped by a friend.

What had happened was a freeze response -all my previous angst around writing pre-loaded the writing task for the day and I was gone…shut down, not able to think or work my way out of it. It passed, it’s fine. But this is another example of an evolutionary reaction being triggered in a seemingly trivial situation.

Luckily I spotted the shutdown and freeze reaction for what it was, and moved to breathing and grounding to feel better. But with the grounding, I worked to activate my body rather than calm it down.

Social Engagement System -The peace wiring

There’s a third system in place -the social engagement system. This one quietens down fight & flight and revs up freeze so we get our head together, but we have to feel safe.

This is so we can go and join with others in a peaceful and productive way to Do Better. We’re a tribe after all and to get on with people we have to be settled and calm. That’s where we talk and explain our ideas, can listen properly and together, use our judgment to do great stuff as a group. That’s what getting our head together is all about!

#1-Just set a Path to Better

What’s Fawn? Well, it’s evolutionally much more recent, reflecting herd or tribal life. It’s on the way to a shutdown, so it’s got “braking” wiring. It’s where at the sign of threat, we try and appease or fawn to the source of the threat. The body response will be one of shutting down. Fawn is interesting but we’ll leave that response to another day…

Just start Tracking your Crack Up and Shut Down responses, keep a journal and start noticing what happens in your body. 

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