Dr. Eva Selhub, MD and I have decided that we must be sisters or at the very least distant cousins – not only do we look alike, but we have very similar life stories. Both of us, at the age of 28, were in medical residency programs that we hated. In fact, we both experienced anxiety attacks and intense fear while under the severe stress of medical training.
Thankfully, we both healed from anxiety and charted new courses in life: I became a wellness expert, speaker, coach and dancer, and Eva became an integrative health specialist who teaches at Harvard Medical School and is senior staff at the Benson Henry Institute for Mind/Body Medicine in Boston. Our spiritual perspectives are quite different, but I am really appreciate her knowledge and wisdom about the body and its response to stress and strain.
We both have experienced great fear and anxiety, and have worked hard in our lives to understand and overcome its grip. Today, I’d like to share with you some concepts about fear from Eva’s book, The Love Response:
1) Are you holding your breath?
Are you breathing shallowly? Does your chest feel tight? Are your shoulders hunched forward? According to Dr. Selhub, these are all signs that fear is likely dominating your day. If you’re tensing your shoulders or holding your breath most of the day, you need to wake up – you are slowly killing yourself! Check and correct your breathing whenever you can, it will make a huge difference to your health, energy and experience of life.
2) Are you struggling with allergies?
When you operate in a state of fear or stress for a long time, your cortisol (stress hormone) levels rise and continue to be high at night. This weakens your immune system’s “nighttime security” and decreases your defences against tumors or viruses. In turn, the immune system stops sending messenger cells (cytokines) which normally turn off your body’s “daytime security”.
The result: your immune system’s “daytime security” overreacts to environmental substances and you can develop allergies. I’ve certainly found this to be true, as I develop hives when stressed, and have noticed that my dust allergies go into overdrive when I’m anxious. If you suffer from allergies, you would do well to identify stressors and sources of fear and anxiety in your life and work to heal or change these areas.
3) To stop the fear response, you not only need to recognize when it is active but also identify what set it off
I have been working hard on this lately, as I have decided to refuse to worry. Every time I catch myself feeling anxious or tense, I ask myself what has set me off, what am I worrying about? Now when I identify the trigger, in that very moment I hand it over to God/Jesus to take care of. Clearly, I do my part to remedy the situation where it’s necessary and appropriate, but the majority of time that I spend worrying doesn’t do anything to solve the situation, it’s simply time spent worrying – which evokes a fear response and threatens my health and well-being.
Do you worry too much? If you don’t believe in God, it can be very useful to acknowledge that worrying for the sake of worrying is a waste of time and it’s best for you to let go of the worrying thought, breathe deeply, and get on with the business of your day.
4) Your body and mind use “feelings” or sensations such as hunger, neck or upper back tension, chills, fatigue, irritability or frustration as a way of signalling that something is wrong in your internal or external environment
I love to talk about Body Language, which is the way that your body gets your attention about something you need to change. The more you ignore your body, the louder it will complain, ultimately jeopardizing your health and quality of life. Lately I’ve been experiencing tension in my neck and upper back, a sure sign that I need to slow down and contemplate what’s working in my life and what’s not. It’s not easy to stop and look squarely at your internal and external life, most of us prefer to take a pill and keep pushing on. I can’t lie to myself about this, though, as I know from my own life and from the lives of patients and coaching clients that the rewards of stopping and listening to your body are too great to ignore the signs.
If your life is dominated by fear, stress and worry, in the words of Dr. Selhub “it’s never too late to fix it”. In my experience, fear and stress are key signposts along your life’s road that will help you redirect your choices and habits wherever necessary. Fear can be your friend, if you learn what it means and what to do with it. For me, giving it over to God is by far the best skill to develop (I’ve discovered over the years that it’s far better for Him to be in charge than me!)