Black and white image of a woman with her back to the camera, walking down a two-lane road with grassy fields along the sides of the road.

Safe Escape

Ya’ll. I am going to level with you. Life is really hard right now.

Routinely, I find myself saying there are no easy answers. Day in, day out, I do what I can to offer a safe space to allow feelings to flow. My hope is that when we are on the other side of all of this we have just a little bit less to contend with.

And it’s so much to sit with: 400+ years of racial trauma erupting, the persistent threat of COVID, the stress and disorientation of quarantine life, the lack of even a semi-appropriate response by our government – let alone any personal woes you may be going through.

From a Nervous System Perspective…

When we are missing a sense of safety and connection, we get activated.

If we can’t flee, we may feel prompted to fight.

Can’t fight, we may feel the urge to flee.

If the fighting and fleeing are out, but appeasement may work – well, we might just try to sugar our way to a sense of security.

And, of course, any necessary venture out of the house – like to get groceries – can send us into a total freeze response that somehow we might find a way to overcome…because food.

When 5 months have gone by and none of these strategies have solved racial trauma, ended COVID and physical distancing nor yielded a more responsive government, the body can register this as the appropriate time to go into shutdown mode.

Shutdown mode can feel pretty terrible.

Our minds can’t seem to focus or be as productive despite “having more time.” Our bodies can feel heavy, cold, lethargic, even achey. And difficult memories of times when we’ve unfortunately been here before can arise…creating even more distress.

We may feel betrayed by our current lack of optimal functioning and start to be even harder on ourselves. News flash: the body is not the enemy. The body is just trying to help us conserve energy and survive the relentless threat of this situation we are in right now.

See how hard this is?

Cycling between all these different states of being – fight, flight, appease, freeze, and shutdown – is exhausting. And as summer nears its end, most of us just want to escape right now.

When You’re Feeling the Flighty Feels

The urge to escape can be SO strong. So strong that the fear of the pandemic may pale in comparison to this urge. You may feel puzzled by this lack of fear – that’s understandable and we are still, in fact, living through a pandemic.

With this in mind, if you are actually planning to get out somehow, I invite you to take a harm reduction approach to this – or a “middle path” as I like to call it. Please consider the steps you will take to be a steward of safety – wear a mask, practice physical distancing, use hand sanitizer, wash hands thoroughly, opt for camping or more secluded ventures, etc. And please consider the ways you can be transparent about your activity with others so that they can make their own choices regarding their safety with you.

If the urge to flee feels strong in you and for all the reasons you are absolutely not breaking quarantine protocol. First, I want to say I have so much empathy for you and I know that there is a lot of anger and frustration built into this situation. Second, I want to help you release some of this flight response, if you’re feeling it and up for it.

One beautiful thing about our nervous systems is that we can release the energy even if we can’t change what happened. To do this, we do need to acknowledge that we are not invalidating reality and we are simply seeking to safely release the energy pent up in the body. From there, we can use our imaginations to give our nervous system a different experience while honoring our truth.

When flight mode is on high, try these POWER moves to release the impulse to flee without actually running away (just yet).

  1. Escape Fantasy. When we want to get away it can be so powerful to allow our imaginations to do the running for us when we can’t quite get away. Tuning in to your flighty feels, where do you want to go? If you could not be responsible for anything or anyone, where would you go? Let the image of this place come into your mind’s eye in vivid detail. Notice how your body feels as you imagine this safe space. Put a reminder of this place in your space to help your body remember that you can go there anytime.
  2. Dance it Out. Flight mode is designed to give us as much space as possible and we can simulate this with dance. Make a playlist of songs that make you wanna take up space (or borrow mine). Crank up the music and let your body move. This is very synonymous with the full-body shake that animals do in the wild and music also helps us not feel alone in our feelings. WIN-WIN
  3. Walk, Run, Bike, Swim as Fast as You Can. As mentioned before, our limbs tend to get online when we are in flight mode and they may want to scurry away. A great way to release this is to engage in an activity that moves your body away – away from anything. So pick whatever activity you enjoy most and do it as fast and as hard as you can (while still keeping your body safe). As you do, NOTICE YOUR POWER in your limbs. Your body will let you know when it’s finished – don’t push any harder than that. You may have the urge to shake them out afterward – follow that urge.
  4. Take Root. Flight mode can have us all kinds of ungrounded. My favorite grounding practice is so simple: In a seated or standing position, with eyes open or closed, imagine roots growing from your feet and penetrating the earth all the way to the core. Really let your mind go there. On your out breath, imagine all your worries being carried away by these roots. Pause between in and out breaths, imagine the earth transforming your stress. On the in breath, imagine breathing in nutrients, resources, vital life forces from the earth. Enjoy this delicious new space.
  5. Photograph Your Feelings. Alongside grounding, it is also important to practice containment. A photograph, in a sense, is a container. It has finite edges and corners. It is a 2D representation of a single moment in time. So if your feelings are running the show, start seeing if you can photograph them. Anything can represent a feeling – even just the thing you are looking at as you feel X. What I also love about this practice is that you can do it from anywhere, like your home.

All Feelings and Urges are Valid

I hope these moves help you release some of the flighty feels and I hope the post on anger is a resource for any urges to fight that you may be feeling. Our bodies are just trying to help us in their own way and it doesn’t always make apparent sense.

Again, these strategies are not a cure for the very real stresses, threats, oppression, and traumas that are happening right now. These strategies are to help relieve some of the pressure in the meantime. To help us stay as resilient as possible so that we can maintain the energy needed to PERSIST.

About the Author

Natalia Amari, LCSW

Natalia Amari, LCSW

Natalia Amari, LCSW is a relational trauma therapist working at the intersections of culture, power and personhood. She is on a mission to help others overcome experiences of trauma and reclaim their personal power.

Share Wisely

Natalia Amari, LCSW

Natalia Amari, LCSW

Natalia Amari, LCSW is a relational trauma therapist working at the intersections of culture, power and personhood. She is on a mission to help others overcome experiences of trauma and reclaim their personal power.

Share Wisely


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