17 Apr Scared To Death? The Impact Of Fear On Your Brain & Body
Your biggest fear has just been triggered. You’ve been called upon to speak at your best friend’s wedding, a gathering of about 200 people. You detest speaking in front of an audience, but you can’t let your best friend down. You agree to do it knowing you’re going to stress about it right up until the big day six months from now.
You’re in the back of a cab that’s just about to head onto the 401. The passing cars are a blur of colour, steel, and rubber, and you feel the cold prickle of fear rise through your body from your feet to the top of your head. Your face is hot, and your heart pounds. It’s the same thing that happened last week when you sat in the back of a car, and the reason why you try to avoid being a passenger altogether. But where did that fear come from?
If either situation sounds familiar, you’re not alone. Not a single person in the world lives without some degree of fear. It’s our internal life-saving device. Fear only becomes a problem when it paralyzes or takes over our ability to make rational decisions about non-life-threatening situations, such as turning down a wicked job opportunity because we’re afraid of failure.
But what does fear have to do with energy medicine and other therapeutic healing modalities? Well, for starters, fear may feel like an emotional response, but its origins are physiological. What happens to your body under the stress of fear is quite phenomenal, and the long-term impacts of chronic fear, especially the unconscious variety, range from chronic inflammation and pain to digestive disorders.
What is Fear?
Fear is a contractive emotion that occurs as a programmed biological response to a stimulus. There’s a mass of cells in the brain called the amygdala that responds to fear by growing in size. The fear might be a response to an immediate perceived external threat, or it may be the perpetuity of fearful thoughts and low-grade internal stress. The problem is not with the reaction itself, but because the amygdala is also the brain’s fear-processing centre.
Your Brain on Fear
You’ve heard of the fight-or-flight response. Indeed, a mere handful of days alive can acquaint us quite intimately with fear. When we’re exposed to a perceived life-threatening stimulus, such as a knife to the throat, the amygdala responds and sends out warning signals to the hypothalamus. This kickstarts the adrenal glands to produce adrenaline. It’s a response that serves to protect you by preparing your body to move. You begin to sweat, your heart rate kicks up a notch, and blood rushes to your muscles. Even your pupils dilate as your sympathetic nervous system triggers the fight or flight response. Your body stands on full alert, primed to respond and protect itself against danger.
But there’s another type of fear that’s less life-threatening. Perhaps you see a spider, hear a loud and unexpected bang, or sense a subtle, uneasy presence in your field. Your brain responds via the prefrontal or sensory cortex and signals the hippocampus, which is responsible for memory. Your hippocampus flips through its files and compares the current situation with past events to determine just how threatening, if not life-threatening, that spider or bang is, and the physiological fight-or-flight fear response ensues. All of this happens in nano time.
What Happens to Fear in the Long-Term?
When all these processes kick into action day after day, the nervous system goes into overdrive as the amygdala swells in size, and the adrenal glands work overtime. Such a dramatic uptick in automatic brain activity requires a lot of energy and space. We surrender our logical minds to reactivity and lose our capacity for more rational thought. As this happens continuously, our brains become programmed to associate cues, such as unrelated details surrounding the fear event, to our fear response even though they inflict no threat at all.
Much of that extraneous content becomes part of our unconscious conditioned fear response because our memory is also affected. We can’t suss out, much less recall factual information from past fear events. Over time, this stress response harms our physiology, disrupts our energy field, and stains the walls of our psyche. It leads to anxiety, depression, chronic fatigue, unexplainable pain, addiction, PTSD, premature aging, even suicide.
The biggest problem with this is that the brain constantly reinforces itself to its own detriment. We cannot talk or rationalize our way out of this vicious cycle of fear, reactivity, repression, and injury. Finding a way to meet our own minds is paramount to dealing with fear, and there are a few ways to tackle this. But let’s know one thing for sure: avoidance doesn’t fix the problem, it reinforces it. This doesn’t mean that you have to confront old demons, dredge up a long-dead past or painful history, or seek psychotherapy. You don’t even have to go through the effort of making positive associations as a method for rewiring your brain, though such a strategy has been shown to have successful results.
So, to answer the question of where does fear go in the long-term if we don’t deal with it? Nowhere. It stays right where it started.
Your Issues Are In Your Tissues
One of the key ways you can recover from and prevent long-term impacts of fear on the emotional and physical body is through soft tissue therapy and energy medicine. You might be wondering, all I have to do is get a regular massage to look fear right in the face? Essentially, yes. But there’s a bit more to it.
The first and most important part of confronting and dealing with unhelpful fear is recognizing its presence and being motivated to do something about it. Repressed emotions, such as the ones surrounding a conditioned fear response, often get lodged in our body tissues. That is, fear energy, like a chemical residue from overactive signaling, becomes trapped in our muscles, ligaments, and fascia because it has no place else to go. It’s a bit like a build of lactic acid but has more to do with the body’s subtle energetics. If you’ve ever heard the witty aphorism, your issues are in your tissues, that’s precisely what we’re getting at.
Energetic Healing Can Help
Soft tissue therapy, reiki, and mixed healing modalities such as the Black Pearl Technique can help to release some of that accumulated fear energy and emotional anxiety. The difference between stored fear and lactic acid build-up, however, concerns your conscious awareness that there is something to be addressed. Healing therapies demand that you approach treatment with a strong presence of mind to confront and overcome, or in some cases, invite acceptance into your healing journey. This may involve setting an intention for each therapy session and following it up with journaling about what feelings, sensations, or thoughts arose during and after treatment.
If you’re interested in exploring your personal relationship with fear or discovering how it may be affecting your health and vitality, let us know. A private and confidential consultation is a great place to find some new insights and learn more about specific healing modalities that will support a more conscious intervention with fear and stress recovery.
Contact Marnie today. Although in-person services are currently on hold as a result of COVID-19 measures, Marnie is available for video, voice consultations or distant healings until further notice.