I’m going to let you in on a little (big) secret.
When you live in a constant state of fear, anxiety, stress, panic, dread, worry, fight/flight/freeze – you physically cannot rest/digest/heal.
Constant fear/stress/anxiety fries the nervous system. It literally short-circuits the entire system and eventually we become unable to handle the demands of our lives and bodies. This is the basic definition of stress -- when demand exceeds what we can keep up with.
The autonomic nervous system (ANS) is the arm of our nervous system that is “automatic.” What this means is every single thing in your body that needs to happen automatically is carried out by the ANS.
Your beating heart.
Your body temperature regulation.
Your blood pressure regulation.
Your blood sugar balance.
Your liver detoxifying.
Your kidneys filtering blood.
Your lymphatic system moving waste through.
That cut on your hand that heals up in no time, thanks to the white blood cells, platelets, and macrophages that come to the rescue.
Everything that happens in your body that is automatic, that happens outside the context of your conscious thinking, is governed by the autonomic nervous system. This is the innate intelligence of the body. Check out an earlier blog post I wrote about this here.
How lucky are we that we don’t have to tell the body to regulate our body temperature?
Or to generate more blood sugar when we forgot to eat breakfast?
Or to start sweating when we work out in order to cool our body down?
Or tell our liver to get on metabolizing all that wine from our weekend in Napa?
There are two branches to the ANS.
Sympathetic Nervous System (fight/flight/freeze) & Parasympathetic Nervous System (rest/digest/heal)
When we are stressed, anxious, worried, panicked, etc, which arm of the ANS do you think is active?
(The sympathetic nervous system)
When we are calm, balanced, and at peace, which arm do you think is running the show?
(The parasympathetic nervous system).
WHEN WE ARE CONSTANTLY IN A SYMPATHETIC STATE, WE LITERALLY CANNOT HEAL.
The duality of these two very different arms of the ANS prevents it from happening. You can’t digest your steak and potatoes if you’re being chased by an angry bear. You could try, but you would not be very successful. Or have you ever had a personal tragedy happen in your life and found that you had absolutely no appetite and the mere thought of food makes you want to vom? This is because the sympathetic nervous system is running the show, and its priorities are completely opposite of the ones that the parasympathetic nervous system governs.
I am someone who lived in fight or flight for a very long time.
ICU nurse x13 years, pulling all-nighters in college to cram for tests and finals complete with Starbucks Double Shots and Rockstar Energy drinks (the orange can was soooooo tasty omg), total adrenaline junkie, coffee on an empty stomach because who has time for breakfast, night shifter, swing shifter, night shift fake day off into day shift the next day shifter, people pleaser, go go go do do do hustle hustle hustle, do all the clubs and groups and extracurriculars and work multiple jobs in high school, jam pack 36 hours worth of things into a 24 hour day, get 5 hours of sleep at night because omg I’m soooooo good at going only 5 hours of sleep….
UGH! Are you exhausted just reading that?! No wonder my hormones said “no more” back in 2020…
So yeah. I know a thing or two about fight or flight.
However -- many of these stressors in my life at the time were PHYSICAL stressors. Coffee on an empty stomach. No sleep. Never slowing down. Working out even when I was tired. Boozy brunches.
Know this -- stressors that are PERCEIVED are just as damaging and just as detrimental to the nervous system as the actual physical stressors.
For example::: worrying about catching a bug or germ or virus. This very real fear creates stress in the body. Worrying that you won't be able to get pregnant when you want to. Is there anything more stressful than this thought right here?? (ask any woman on a fertility journey, and the answer is a resounding NO). Stressing about things completely out of your control -- they aren't even happening to you and yet the THOUGHT of them happening creates stress and sends you straight into fight/flight/freeze!
This is how powerful fear is.
THIS CONSTANT STATE OF FIGHT OR FLIGHT IS VERY DAMAGING TO THE NERVOUS SYSTEM OVER TIME. EVENTUALLY, THE ENTIRE SYSTEM SHORT CIRCUITS AND ALL THE BODY HAS TIME AND ENERGY FOR IS SURVIVAL.
For me, it manifested in PCOS, fertility challenges, and complete adrenal fatigue. For another woman, it might be Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. For another woman, it might be migraines and weight gain.
So what does all this have to do with fear? Good question, I'm glad you asked! Lets get into it.
We have to talk about the power of the mind to really get a good grasp on how big of a deal this is.
Have you ever heard of the placebo effect? In all double-blind placebo-controlled studies, one group of participants gets the actual medication that the researchers are studying, and the other group gets a placebo, usually a sugar pill.
The placebo affect is when the control group taking the sugar pill actually gets the same physical results as the experimental group, or the people who actually took the real medication.
THIS IS THE POWER OF THE MIND, PEOPLE.
People who were taking sugar pills BELIEVED they were getting a medication that was going to help their ailment, and THEY ACHIEVED THE SAME RESULTS AS PEOPLE TAKING THE DRUG.
To quote the late Norman Cousins: "Drugs are not always necessary. Belief in recovery always is."
Just as the placebo effect is quite real, so is the nocebo effect. The nocebo effect is the opposite of the placebo effect. It's the concept that suggests that negative thinking about an outcome can prevent a desired result, simply because the person does not believe the treatment or therapy will work.
This explains why some people in the experimental group (the group taking the drug) do not get results, when people in the control group do: THE POWER OF THE MIND.
Back to fear.
Fear is debilitating. Fear is crippling. Fear makes people go a little bit crazy. Fear makes people do things that are not entirely logical. Fear can infiltrate all aspects of your life. Fear keeps us in a perpetual state of stagnancy because we can't move forward, we can't grow, we can't expand, we can't stretch because we are so worried about things outside of ourselves (and many of these things, we cannot control).
Can you name a time when you worried about something that is entirely out of your control? I know I can! I have sooo many examples of fears that took up space in my mind over the years. But honestly, they made me so unhappy and weighed me down so much that I decided one day that I was going to shed these fears and live my life with intention, with joy, with purpose, with fervor, and with unwavering faith that everything is working out for me.
There is a lot of fear in our world these days. I see so many people living in a constant state of fear, panic and worry that something bad is going to happen to them or their families. I see the heaviness on their faces. I hear the weight in their voices. You know how everything is energy and energy is everything? I very much feel the energy of fear and angst when I'm with people who live in this space. And I watch as they spiral further into debilitating fear while they wait for something bad to happen to them or their families. This is true for many people that I know and love very much.
But fear is a dark, tiny, stifling, claustrophobic room with no windows. And it's hard for life to thrive in an environment like that.
WHEN WE LIVE IN FEAR, WE LIVE IN A STATE OF SYMPATHETIC NERVOUS SYSTEM DOMINANCE.
This is not where healing occurs.
We must be intentional about moving from fight/flight/freeze into rest/digest/heal. You can do it right now. Simply connect to your breath, slow down, notice your heart beating, and simply be here now.
I believe that the most powerful thing we can do for mitigating fear, for our emotional wellbeing and for the health of our nervous systems is to become empowered in our health and our daily lives.
When we take responsibility for our health, when we make good diet and lifestyle choices, when we support the terrain of our incredible human body, when we support ourselves nutritionally, when we have an abundance of minerals so that our bodies can carry out their millions of jobs, when we are supported environmentally, emotionally, and spiritually -- THIS creates optimal health. And when a body is in optimal health, there's resiliency there. There exists an ability to fight disease, to maintain adequate immune function, to renew and repair.
THERE IS LITERALLY NOTHING TO FEAR! YOUR BODY CAN HANDLE THE THINGS OUTSIDE OF YOU, BECAUSE THE INSIDE OF YOU IS RESILENT AND STRONG AND THRIVING!
Doesn't that feel liberating?
Doesn't that feel freeing?
Doesn't that feel light years better than sitting around waiting for something bad to happen to you, some innocuous germ to find you, some unexplained natural disaster to befall you?
Another piece of fear has to do with something I like to call spiritual armor. This means knowing you are protected by God, source energy, universal intelligence, all the names that mean the same thing -- always and in all ways. My faith and trust in a power greater than myself gives me all of the strength I need in knowing that I am divinely protected by this incredible love that surrounds me.
Fear and love can't live together in the same house. Because love vanquishes fear. Love conquers all fear. Love squanders every angst, worry, stressor, and ruminating thought that is brought on by fear.
For me, part of living my best and healthiest and most fulfilling and most enlightened life involves strengthening my body through food, lifestyle, movement, minerals, sunshine, nature, love, intimacy, cultivating my relationships, and deepening my spirituality. This allows me to live a life free of fear. Not living in fear means my sympathetic nervous system kicks in when I need it to, but is not in overdrive. Not living in fear means that my body is in a state of rest and repair much of the day. Not living in fear probably saved my life.
I encourage you to explore some of these concepts and spend some time with your journal if anything came up for you today. If you're triggered, why? Go toward that. If you feel liberated, go toward that too. Give yourself permission today to feel into these complicated emotions and uncover what's at the heart of it.
What are some things that you can do today to strengthen your spiritual armor?
What are some ways you can move away from fear?
How are you going to support your nervous system today?
Yours In Abundant Health!