What The Fear Response Can Teach Us
Much of life possesses an undercurrent of fear. Not just obvious triggers like: public speaking, intimacy, and talking to strangers. Something as ordinary as breaking an old habit, or watching the news, might stimulate fearful feelings. These micro levels of fear can be so subtle, they go undetected… but that doesn’t make their effects less powerful.
Flight or fright (aka the fear response) is the body’s reaction to stress; like an internal alarm, it triggers your autonomic nervous system to protect you from danger. It’s there for an important reason… And that’s a good thing. However, repeatedly flipping the fear switch can be hazardous to your health in many ways. The fear response puts intense pressure on your body; stress hormones are released. Your blood clots faster. Breathing and heartbeat quickens. Plus, other organs that you don’t need, function slower. All these things put you on high alert as the body prepares for a fight. According to Dr. Kristine Blanche, CEO of the Integrative Health Center, “Stress affects your adrenal glands first, then eventually all of the sex hormones like DHEA and testosterone.” What does that mean for your sex life? According to Dr. Blanche, stress, “can decrease libido and drive in general.”
So… how can you evolve, and venture into the unknown without experiencing fear? You can’t. Uncomfortable situations are inevitable. You can however, become aware of your reactions. Noticing how you feel gives you an edge; in some cases, it may help halt the fear response in its tracks.
What about self imposed terror? Ironically, with all the effort to combat stress and experience inner calm, the popularity of horror and thriller films are on the rise. Any scary movie worth it’s poison, will creep into your psyche and send chills ricocheting along your spine. Still, these movies are beloved for good reason. They’re a blast. The adrenaline rush they provide is exciting. Thrills aside, does watching mean you’re inviting fright or flight to come get you? Well, yes… And no.
Luckily, you don’t need to entirely forgo the delicious escapism frightening films provide… Because the body is sensitive and highly attuned. And you won’t go into full blown flight or fright; according to an article by Assistant Professors of Psychiatry, Arash Javanbakht, and Linda Saab, in The Conversation, when the brain processes a perceived threat it first determines its levels of danger. So, for instance if you’re watching a horror flick, terrified enough to scream, on another level your brain knows you aren’t really in danger. So the fear response will be limited.
Still, you may wish to consider when and how much you induce fright… since like food, the information you feed your senses will manifest within the body. Be mindful of scary exposure; especially before bed, when fearful images can infiltrate your subconscious mind and seep into your dreams. When you do watch, you can take yogic three part breaths to counteract the fear response. When you breathe through the nose, deeply into your abdomen, it sends a message to the brain that all is well. This naturally helps calm the body by way of the mind.
For more ways to control overdoing the fear response, read on…
* Before using holistic remedies, always check side effects. And when engaging in yoga or exercise, make sure it’s safe for you.
Brain Gym, practitioner and International Faculty Member, Paula Oleska says,“the right and left brain hemispheres stop communicating under stress.” Brain Gym ® is a modality that uses simple movements to organize both sides of the brain. It was developed decades ago by Paul Dennison, Ph.D., and his wife, Gail.
When you do these specific movements, they help mesh the right and left halves of the brain. Oleska recommends doing an exercise called “Positive Points” or “Emotional Stress Release Points,” to help the brain harmonize during stress. How does it work? Oleska says, “There are two reflex points on the forehead that balance blood circulation to the brain.” When you lightly massage these spots, Oleska explains, “this increased blood circulation helps your body breathe a sigh of relief and relax.”
Try the exercise, as described by Oleska. Sit or lie down… Find your reflex points on your forehead: slightly above the middle of each eye. Cover your forehead lightly with the pads of all fingers. Hold for one to five minutes, while thinking about the distressing situation. After a few minutes, you may start yawning or simply lose focus. This signals you’re done with the exercise.
Larry Mangel, NAMA Certified Ayurvedic Practitioner and co-founder of Shanti Yoga and Ayurveda, comes from an Ayurvedic science perspective, and believes, “fear is a product of an unbalanced Vata dosha (one of three substances in a person's body).” Larry describes Vata as being, “comprised of the air and space elements in your body or states of matter. And they contribute to emotional reactions of fear, nervousness, anxiety and pain.”
How can you balance Vata? Larry suggests, “decreasing bitter, pungent and astringent tastes in your diet.” Because these foods are “drying, disorienting and increase air in your body,” says Larry. Examples include: “Most beans except mung, cold, raw foods, dry grains, stimulants (coffee). Also nightshade and cabbage family vegetables, unripe fruit, dried fruit, leafy greens.”
Instead, Larry says, reach for “salty, sour and sweet tastes in your diet.” Eating this way will help, “decrease lightness and dryness in your body,” according to Larry. Beneficial foods like, “short grain rice, oats, root vegetables, citrus, and other fresh fruit, green and mung beans,” Larry explains, this helps the body harmonize. Also, eat cooked, “warm and moist foods like oatmeal and soups, as they help balance the cold and dry of Vata.”
Meditation is a powerful tool, proven to soothe the mind and body. Larry suggests, meditating for a minimum of a few minutes each day, as “it will relax your body and let your blood vessels dilate to counter the tightened blood vessels caused by fear.”
As you partake in mindfulness practices, use this insight to notice how you processes fearful situations… Listen to your body as often as possible; consider what role fear plays in your emotional/physical health. And use this self-knowledge to become more calm and centered.