Fear is a necessary part of our lives. If we didn’t feel fear, we might do ourselves damage, it is, after all, our survival instinct and can help us get out of immediate danger.
But what if we are constantly in a state of fear,
what is the point of that?
Your body reacts to your thoughts
Our thoughts create emotions. If left unchecked the voice in our heads, our internal dialogue, can keep us in a negative emotional state long after any dangerous situation has passed (if there was a real one). In fact, anxiety is always a fear projection about some future event. Often there is a sense that if we have thought or worried about something then we have it in our sights and there is some level of preparedness with that. Edward de Bono would call this ‘black hat thinking’.
However, we are all on autopilot with our thoughts. Often not aware of them and how we are feeling because of them until we are entrenched in emotion.
What happens to our bodily systems when we are in fear? Our immune system is all fired up waiting for the attack. Its whole army of defences is on alert in case of invasion, after all we do not know where our body will take the blow. Our body doesn’t know how long it needs to keep patrolling, looking for the imminent invaders.
We are a chemical factory! Our emotional states are created by our thoughts in every instance, they are getting our bodies prepared for an attack. A previous trainer of mine used to say,
“whether you think there is a snake by your ankle or there really is, your reaction will be the same”.
This hyper-vigilance is meant to be for ‘in the moment’ imminent threat, but we seem addicted to what could go wrong. We get used to living with a state of anxiety or fear, it has become our new norm. So when things are going well, it can make us feel something is not quite right, like ‘waiting for the other shoe to drop’.
We create a new baseline and the good news is with brain plasticity we can also retrain ourselves into better states. Figures, before this year’s challenges, were showing that 322 million people are suffering from depression and anxiety. Addiction to our thinking is our norm. Edward Bullimore, author of ‘The Inflamed Mind – A radical new approach to depression’, initially a medic he turned to psychiatry and has been researching how the immune system and the nervous system interact. He has this to say, ‘inflammation directly causes depression’ he goes on to cite research stating that ‘80% of all episodes of depression have been preceded by a stressful life event’. The most depressing stresses are events that involve both losses of an important relationship and social rejection ‘social stresses can cause inflammatory activation’.
What can we do differently?
Whether we are watching a TV drama, playing computer games or watching the news, our bodies respond to the transmission as if it is a real threat even though you have a conscious awareness that you are safe sat in your living room.
When we begin to have more of an awareness of our emotions, and how we are affected, we can begin to see which thoughts and which activities are involved. Now we have a choice, not only over the circumstances of our ‘input’ but where we are choosing to place our attention and the conversations we are having.
Now you can also influence how you respond to those circumstances. Obviously, different strokes for different folks.
For example, let’s take the news. How do you feel after your news updates? How often do you check the news on our phone or TV? Does it give you cause for concern? Is it accompanied by a sense of not being in a position to do anything, making you feel powerless? As you go about your daily activities it is like having a computer program open with unfinished business. It is something else to worry about and you may not catch yourself consciously doing it. Studies have shown, left unchecked most of our thoughts are repetitive and negative.
Not only do you feel bad but, as we emit our energy from our emotions, we literally feel each other’s nervous system. Our communication goes far beyond our words, we feel each other. Some people are more aware of this than others. The person with the most powerful emotional state will have a lasting impact, it is called entrainment.
Have you ever walked happily into a room with an atmosphere that you could cut with a knife?
You are feeling the emotional states that are present. Our emotions are on a scale; negative to positive. They have a frequency that we cannot detect with the eyes, but we sense and recognise. You will no doubt know people that are ‘the life and soul’ of a gathering and conversely, you may know some energy vampires. We always have the power to affect that frequency. With awareness we can deliberately change our state, we are not at the mercy of our negative thinking and emoting. Even if you are concerned about some event that may or may not happen just by asking yourself the question ‘How does it get any better than this?’ sets your mind in search of ways to make improvements. The biggest changes can come from directing your attention away from your thinking centre, your head brain, and you can put your focus on the centre of your chest to your heart brain. Yes, it is a brain and it is evidenced that it is more powerful than your head!
Heart focused breathing
All spiritual traditions, including yoga and many types of meditation, have varying breathing techniques to affect the body. The coherent breath of ’equal in and out’ is scientifically evidenced to alter your nervous system. This state of coherence brings all your internal systems into alignment and although you are calm you are very much alert. This is not the same as relaxation.
This is allowing your body to rest and repair and most importantly to shift out of a fear state to allow the ‘army’ to stand down. If you would like to know more of the evidence behind it then visit www.heartmath.com. They are leaders in the field of the power of our hearts to effect change, not only on a personal level but on a global level. When Gandhi said,
‘you must be the change you want to see in the world’
he could have been talking about coherent breathing. Probably not, but it is a nice idea!
Here’s how you do it….
- With your focus of attention on the centre of your chest imagine you are breathing in and out through your chest.
- Take slightly longer breaths in and out ideally for up to 6 seconds.
- Taking the air right down into your belly this will signal to your nervous system that you are safe, and all is well. Your diaphragm is engaged. You can tell you are breathing deep if you put your hands on your lower abdomen and feel it rise as you breathe in.
- Now if you recall a pleasant memory, maybe a place or a person, something that feels really good to you. Imagine this in your chest as you breathe.
- You have literally overridden the emotional state you were in, at will! The pleasant feelings of appreciation, joy or gratitude are the highest feeling vibration there is.
This practice will literally switch you from your sympathetic nervous system, which is your fight/flight system that is pumping cortisol around you, to being in a calm alert state know as coherence.
In no time at all, you will notice that you are feeling much more at ease. The even better news is that if you were to do this practice often, even for just a couple of minutes, you will start to raise that baseline we talked about earlier. The effects will last long after you have finished breathing this way. Obviously the more often and the longer you do this the more you will benefit but even 2 minutes will make a difference. You can even do this standing in your social distancing line! Do not be surprised if the person in front turns around and smiles especially if you imagine sending that positive vibe outwards.
In conclusion, no matter what is going on around us we can all affect how we are going to respond. We have free will on this matter and no one can take that away! Do your immune system a favour and give it a well-deserved boost.
If you have any questions or comments please send them to email@example.com
I would be happy to hear from you.
Prevention is better than cure.
Sue Frend is a certified mBIT Trainer and Master Coach with over 30 years in the personal development field. Her mission is to help people recognise their inner critics and share tools to find balance and improve mental and emotional wellbeing. She believes this should be part of our education.