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 incredibly 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 managed to save our personal and professional lives by charting a new course in life: I became a wellness expert, speaker, coach and professional dancer, and Eva became a top integrative health specialist who teaches at Harvard Medical School and is senior staff at the Benson Henry Institute for Mind/Body Medicine in Boston.
We both know a lot about fear, and have worked hard in our lives to both understand it and overcome it. Today, I'd like to share with you some of gems from Eva's book, The Love Response, which teaches us about our Fear Response in order to help us achieve a far healthier and more loving response to life.
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 a Fear Response 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! (source: page 7) 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. (source: page 11) 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 spend a lot of time with certain people who stress me out or make me feel 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 (p. 19)
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 to take care of and I trust that all will be fine. 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 my Fear response and threatens my health and well-being.
Do you worry too much? Even 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 enjoying 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 (p. 20)
I love to talk about Body Language, which is the way that your body gets your attention about something you need to change in your own life. 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 wonderful signposts along your life's road that will help you redirect your life and turn it into a life that you love. Fear can be your friend, if you learn what it means, what to do with it, and how to transform it.
For more information about Dr. Selhub and her book "The Love Response", visit www.loveresponse.com. For information about my book, "Live a Life You Love: 7 Steps to a Healthier, Happier, More Passionate You", visit www.LiveALifeYouLoveBook.com