As a child, I was afraid of the dark, afraid of being alone and constantly worrying about my parents as my father suffered badly with depression. We struggled financially and money was always a concern and a narrative at the kitchen table. All of these fears from childhood were imbedded into my soul and I took them into my teenage years and adult life. The interesting thing about fear is that it can define you for better or worse, but it can also teach you so much too.
Both your mind and body have deep memory tissued in respect to fears and how you reacted to them. This is a simple survival mechanism based on the ‘fight, flight or freeze’ reaction, which is also known as the sympathetic nervous response. Simply put, how you reacted the last time to a fear will be the default position the next time you encounter it, or anything that looks or feels similar.
Think about being afraid of the dark (or another fear that triggers you) - if the lights go out suddenly, your heart and pulse rate will rise rapidly, your breathing rate increases, your blood vessels constrict, central blood vessels around key organs dilate in order to carry large amounts of oxygen and nutrients to them. Your muscles get fired up and ready for action. Glucose gets dumped into your system and your body is primed for a major move. The glucose is sugar, and is pumped into the system to get you to fight, run, jump etc. Now, just think, whilst you remain stressed, you remain with heightened levels of sugars (glucose) pumping through your body…. so do anxiety suffers have higher levels Type 2 Diabetes … well according to numerous studies they do, including this recent study of Indian Women in New Delhi. It also leads to a significant reduction in sexual desire as documented here in the Huffington Post.
In the brain, the amygdala triggers activity in the hypothalamus, which activates the pituitary gland. This is the point at which your nervous system meets the endocrine (hormone) system. It also means that your brain has just switched to it’s most primal state. You are no longer using your prefrontal cortex, it now switches off, removing logic from the debate, as logic is not needed in a life and death scenario … or is it?!
You have now reverted to being a primal human, you are engaged with fear and you need to decide if you fight it, run from it or freeze and hope it does not see you. This creates many problems in modern life, as it is unlikely that the event that just triggered this response is actually life threatening. Your primal body does not understand 2019, it is still worried about you being eaten by a vicious animal.
Now, think about anxiety around future events. Anxiety can strike fear deep into your body and move you to a state of ‘fight, flight or freeze’. Not only can it bring you there, but it can also leave you there, holding you in a perpetual state of fear. I describe this to my clients as the ‘fear of the imaginary wolf’, you know you are afraid of something, but you are not exactly sure of what it is. This is 2019 fear, it is the stress of modern life, work, family, money and all other things that occupy our thoughts. As these stresses build up, you can start to feel overwhelmed and out of options, other than to listen to the constant noise in your mind. This instigates all of the metabolic reactions mentioned above, yet there is nothing standing in front of you waiting to physically attack.
This is an ancient primal reaction to a modern event, but fear not, there are ancient solutions to ancient problems. As easy as it is to trigger the ‘fight, flight or freeze’ response, it is also possible to develop a calming response, an alternate position. If I can sense fear, feel it coming and stop my brain going all prehistoric, then I can calm myself and stay focussed. This avoids heightened levels of ongoing stress, anxiety and other disorders associated with it. People who are living with ongoing stress and anxiety are putting huge physical stresses onto their body. This can mean many people are left in a constant state of heightened awareness, putting huge stresses on the heart, the nervous systems and the adrenal glands. In turn all of this brings on so many physical implications and can lead quite quickly to an early death. Never mind the mental health impact of remaining in a heightened level of stress or anxiety.
By coming to terms with our fears, we can learn to see them simply as any other incident or memory, neither creating a high nor a low. There are numerous studies showing the benefits of stepping into your fears (with support from a professional) and coming to terms with them in order to let go of stress. In my practice as a psychotherapy coach I work with business leaders and professional athletes who have hit a glass ceiling, with something now holding them back. We explore what the ceiling looks like, why it exists (usually historical fears or beliefs) and what is limiting them from pushing ahead. We work through a timeline of events pinpointing key triggers. We then step inside these triggers and break them down into bitesize pieces. I bring influences from the East, both from Hinduism and Buddhism, into my practice and explore how these ancient masters and zen warriors conquered their fears and their minds.
I teach my clients how to connect into their parasympathetic nervous system (rest and relax state) and how to counter the physical reactions associated with stress and fear. This brings a happier state of wellbeing, where success arrives without stress, which is also known as ‘flow state’. Meditation and mindfulness play a key role in the therapy as does connecting back into who you are, where you are and where you want to get to in life.
So we all have a choice, we can live with our fears and react as before (fight, flight or freeze) or we can learn that an alternate path is available. If you need to step past a limiting belief, conquer a fear, or step away from anxiety, then reach out and seek help today.
My early childhood fears drove me to leave my country of birth, build a successful career in London and create a resilient mindset. Over time I had to come to terms with the issues but I kept and maintained my resilient mindset. Some fears are good, some are bad, but any that debilitate you need to be stepped into and conquered.