Fear- the one emotion that can stop you dead in your tracks, against any of your better judgment.
Fear is inevitable. It occurs within the smallest insect and the largest mammal. It can be a great instinctual warning sign. Just the same, it can be something so debilitating that can completely prevent you from moving forward from trying something new or doing something different. It’s the emotion that makes you do one more lab test, see one more practitioner, and read one more scientific article because of the what ifs, buts, and maybes that exist in your fear-related-ether.
At the same time, this can be a very good thing. Fear is a protective mechanism, meant to stop us from doing something that may cause harm. But more often than not, fear is the one thing preventing us from ever seeing results, improvements, and experiencing true recovery. Fear of recovery can be the biggest fear of all. This is because our brains may no longer have context for what is “safe” and “dangerous” due to chronic stress and illness, and when we are stuck in the chronic stress response, a constant state of fear becomes our new normal. Thinking about your fully recovered self can, all of the sudden, become scary and frightening.
Fear is an emotion that’s processed in the amygdala. When your amygdala is overreacting, fear becomes the epicenter of your existence. You begin to react and respond with fear, and you may find yourself anxious about not only your health condition, but every aspect of your life. You can find yourself worrying about the big things and the little things alike and reacting very quickly and dramatically. Your brain and your body can respond this way when the amygdala is on high alert.
When you are constantly fearful, you can develop an addiction to stress hormones like adrenaline and norepinephrine. Your heart rate can increase, you can breathe faster, experience muscle tension, rapid eye movement, and remain on high alert. This can happen whether you are driving really fast and the car in front of you stops short or while you’re sitting at home watching TV. The response is dependent on how your amygdala perceives danger. When the amygdala believes you’re in danger, it sends a distress response to the hypothalamus, which then responds by sending information via the nervous system, effecting various organ functions and causing a cascade of hormonal responses.
When the fear response stays turned on because of chronic stress, our bodies begin to suffer through ways of disease, disruptive vague symptoms, and general feelings of discomfort.
But fear does not have to rule your life. You may think- I’ve always been an anxious person, and I’ll always be an anxious person. If you choose otherwise, you don’t have to live out this destiny. Through specific techniques like brain training tools including, mental rehearsal, abdominal breathing, directed meditation, repetitive mental exercise, and positive visualization, you can unlearn the immediate fear response and learn to make calculated and decisive decisions. Decreasing stress related to fear can lead to better health including prevention of stroke and heart disease, reduction in anxiety and depression, a more responsive immune system, and a more optimistic outlook on life.
Through consistent training, you can learn to look at stress in a new light and develop different associations with fear and stress. The strongest thing you can ever do is live through the fear and come out on the other side.
But it’s deciding that you want to change that can be the hardest part. It’s overcoming the initial fear of changing your daily life and thoughts that may seem scary. But take heart. The process is a gradual one; it’s admitting to yourself that you need a change that is truly the most difficult part of brain retraining.
We are all human; we can analyze, worry, and contemplate all we want, but we have the answers inside of us. We have the ability to make empowered decisions for ourselves. So take a deep breath and know, in this moment, that fear does not have to rule you.
Happy Healing to you.