By Jenny Peterson
This is the script from episode #17 of the Simplify Your Healing podcast. You can listen to it here.
FEAR IS A POWERFUL EMOTION
Fear is a powerful emotion. No matter how bad you want something, it can override that desire within seconds. It pops up immediately as soon as you get outside our comfort zone like a tiger just waiting for its prey to get comfortable so it can attack.
While fear is a part of our brain that is doing its job to protect you, it also is preventing you from moving forward and achieving the life and health that you desire.
In today’s episode I will be covering common fears that I see with those that have chronic illness, where fear comes from, how it affects your health and healing, and what you can do about it.
WHERE FEAR COMES FROM
People come to me as big balls of fear. They don’t have just one fear, they have many.
Doing the work in the MBR program, we gradually unravel that ball. Chronic illness has a tendency to take people that were once fearless, high achieving, go getters and turning them into Chicken Littles.
I wouldn’t know this if I didn’t experience it myself. But before I talk about what my past fears were, I think its important to cover the basics about fear.
Have you ever been around a 3 year old and watched how they are fearless about everything? They will try jumping down a bunch of stairs without even thinking twice about the consequences. But if they do jump and get hurt, then the next time they think about jumping down those stairs they have a fear of getting hurt. Where did this fear come from? It came from a memory of them previously jumping down the stairs and getting hurt, right?
Its no different for you and your fears. One of the biggest ways that we can have fear is based off of past events. This is your brain trying to protect you because it wants to avoid pain at all costs and it has stored a file of the things that have caused you pain in order to protect you in the future.
People that have been raised by someone who was extremely fearful or were raised in an environment that made them feel unsafe can also be programmed to be in fear. Their brain automatically goes to a place of fear for almost everything. This could be a situation where a person was raised with a mother that expressed her fears when making a decision or when a child made a decision. In essence they have inherited a fear program.
Or if a child was raised in an environment where their parents were always fighting, this child would not feel safe and will continue moving through life in a heightened state due to that feeling of being unsafe.
A person can also have fear simply from their own imagination. I can bet that you are really good at this. You image all of these “what ifs”, creating pictures in your mind of all that could go wrong. Even though these what ifs haven’t happened, it doesn’t make a difference to the brain. Whether its real or imagined its still getting a message of fear and the body will respond accordingly.
Fear is a chain reaction in the brain. It begins with a frightening stimulus and ends with your body preparing to protect itself from danger. It works like this: something frightens you. You feel dread, anxiety, and panic. Your heart races, your breathing quickens, and your muscles tense up. Your body goes into fight-or-flight mode, ready to do everything it needs to make you safe.
As helpful as that response is, the speed and thoroughness of it can be detrimental. “once the fear pathways are ramped up, the brain short-circuits more rational processing paths and reacts immediately to signals from the amygdala. When in this overactive state, the brain perceives events as negative and remembers them that way.”
The brain stores all the details from that particular stimulus — time of day, images, sounds, smells, weather, etc — in your long-term memory.
Later, the sights, sounds, and other details of the event can become stimuli themselves and trigger fear. They may bring back the memory of the fearful event, or they may cause us to feel afraid without consciously knowing why. Because these cues were associated with previous danger, the brain may see them as a predictor of threat.
When you feel fear, your brain is doing exactly what it’s supposed to do, keep you safe. In moments where keeping you safe is essential like when a tiger is chasing you, that comes in handy. But when you want to make changes in your life and health, fear can keep you stuck and prevent you from moving forward unless you learn to override those fear programs.
MY PREVIOUS FEARS
So I’m not a stranger to experiencing fear when having chronic illness. Before having chronic illness, besides parachuting out of a plane, I wasn’t fearful of anything. I opened my own store at the age of 20 with no business experience, flew by myself to Japan to see my husband, took financial risks, made decisions against those that advised me not to and traveled the country building my skills. Fear never got in my way and if something I did didn’t work out, I always was able to take wisdom from the experience and never see it as a failure.
But when I got chronically ill, fear started to creep more and more into my mind.
I had a fear of being alone, never getting well, getting well and then getting sick again, dying, driving, passing out, eating certain foods, sleeping, taking a shower and even walking out to the chicken coop because I created an image in my mind that I may pass out and the chickens would eat me.
How all of a sudden did all of this fear come about? They were actual things that happened or things I made up in my own mind.
- Being afraid to be alone came from me having panic attacks when I was alone and felt like I was dying.
- Fear of driving came from having panic attacks when I was driving.
- Fear of passing out came from the dizziness that I experienced.
- Fear of taking a shower came from a time that I got extremely dizzy in the shower and felt like I was going to pass out.
- Fear of sleeping came from me having panic attacks when sleeping.
- Fear of never getting well came from all of the failed attempts to heal.
Prior to these experiences, I never had fear around these things. My brain was doing a good job of protecting me by helping me to avoid these situations again.
Fear doesn’t come by itself, it brings its friends with. Pathways of likeness hang out together in your brain. So once you start thinking one way, the rest of the fear gang starts to make themselves comfortable. All of a sudden you are a big ball of fear!
COMMON FEARS OF THOSE WITH CHRONIC ILLNESS
Students come into the MBR program with very similar fears that I had. In addition, I find there are other common fears they have. Some of these include:
Fear that nothing is going to work
This fear comes from trying many protocols and treatments and not getting results. But think back to the “first” treatment that you went to ……. Did you have this fear? Most likely not. I can bet that you felt pretty confident that whatever you were doing was going to work. I know I did. It wasn’t until I tried more than a few treatments/protocols that didn’t work that that fear set in.
I can bet that if you have this fear, you are probably seeing your future as still being sick, maybe in bed, in a wheelchair, missing events with your kids, the whole ball of wax right?
That’s what fear does, it makes us create these scenarios in our heads that are not true. The problem with this is that your brain doesn’t know that its not true. Imagination or reality, it doesn’t know the difference, so you are literally sending a message to your brain that this is what you want. Based off that message, that is what you will get.
Fear of failure
Fear that if I try something and don’t do it perfectly, it won’t work. Behaviors that often come with this are overthinking and perfectionism. They are the powerful 3. With one comes all.
In the case of fear of failure, a person has a perception or meaning around failure that isn’t safe.
So for example, as a kid maybe you got a C on your homework and your parents got mad at you because they expected you to have all A’s. Because of this you were punished or yelled at. If no other explanation or discussion is had around this, your brain will make the connection that getting anything less than an A is going to make you feel rejected or not good enough by your parents. That is pain according to the brain. So it will do anything to prevent you from being in pain.
This will then lead to you working extremely hard to be perfect and meet your parents expectations.
In this situation, anything less than an A is considered a failure. So the meaning of failure due to this situation is I will get rejected. So for the rest of your life, no matter what it is, if failing is a possibility, your brain says stay away from it. Remember, your going to get rejected and feel really dumb if you don’t get this right.
Fear of symptoms and that there could be something very wrong
We have been misinformed about our bodies and its natural healing process. If you went to a doctor for a cut, they would tell you to put a bandaid on it and let it be, your body will heal it. But when we go in for a fever or diarrhea, they find a med to try and make it stop. These symptoms are no different than a cut getting swollen, red and hot when its healing,yet, we treat these completely different.
We are taught to fear when we feel bad. But it’s when we feel bad, we are really healing (which I discuss further in episode #4)
So this fear of symptoms is extremely common with every student we work with.
In addition to the doctors training us to freak out when your body is feeling like poo, I also find that many people are programmed to think this way about their symptoms based off of their childhood. Maybe they had a mom or dad that freaked out and ran to the doctor for every symptom they had. That right there is enough to program a child that feeling bad is scary and unsafe.
When we fear our symptoms, we don’t trust our bodies. This fear puts the nervous system into high alert and never allows the body to relax and heal.
IMPACT OF FEAR ON YOUR HEALING
So lets talk about the impact of fear on your body and healing and then I will get into how to move past these fears.
Living under constant threat, has serious health consequences.
- Memory. Fear can impair formation of long-term memories and cause damage to certain parts of the brain, such as the hippocampus. This can make it even more difficult to regulate fear and can leave a person anxious all of the time. To someone in chronic fear, the world looks scary and their memories confirm that.
- Brain processing and reactivity. Fear can interrupt processes in our brains that allow us to regulate emotions, read non-verbal cues and other information presented to us, reflect before acting, and act ethically. This impacts our thinking and decision-making in negative ways, leaving us susceptible to intense emotions and impulsive reactions. All of these effects can leave us unable to act appropriately or with extreme emotions.
- Fear in the context of German New Medicine keeps us stuck in the conflict phase, the phase where your nervous system is heightened. If your nervous system is heightened, you can’t heal. Your body will not be able to go into the healing phase if your psyche is sending a message of fear.
Specific chronic conditions that are connected to someone being in constant fear are anxiety and panic attacks.
The fear of not being good enough or perfect can lead to muscle, connective tissue, lymph and bone conditions.
Fear is a part of survival. Its there for us when we are being chased by a tiger or when traumatic situations happen in order for us to survive. Our brains and bodies were not designed for this fear response to stay on all the time. Staying “on all the time” leads to chronic conditions.
When we stay in fear it also affects our ability to move forward with our healing. It keeps you stuck. It delays your healing. It delays getting your life and health back.
Moving through fear is a part of personal growth. And in order to heal from chronic illness, personal growth needs to be the main focus.
One big sign you’re allowing fear to hold you back is when you settle. When we settle, we compromise what’s important to us to stay in our comfort zone.
Your comfort zone is when you are sitting in your own poo. It warm and comfortable and because we have been there so long we don’t even smell it. But when you decide to step outside your comfort zone, you start to smell your own poo and decide to put on your boots to get the hell out of there.
Many fears can lead us to procrastination. If your procrastinating on doing something, I can guarantee there is fear at the root of it.
It Causes Us to Be Mentally Distracted. When we are in fear, we can’t focus. Instead we are focusing on the fear! All the things that we should be doing to heal get put on the back burner, while we waste time getting distracted by things that most of the time are really not true or will never happen.
OVERCOMING YOUR FEARS
All of the fears that I had when I was chronically ill, I no longer have. I don’t think twice about walking out to the chicken coop anymore, getting in the car to drive and I definitely don’t mind having my husband and son leave for the weekend to give me a little me time alone.
It was a gradual process to overcome all of my fears. I had to take baby steps. Because of panic attacks being at that core of why I was scared to do everything, my first step was addressing the root cause to those. Resolving some childhood trauma and thinking patterns stopped those quickly. Then I was able to slowly build trust around each of the activities that once created fear. I would debunk all of the crazy thoughts that I had in my head when going into doing those activities. A lot of times just laughing at myself or hearing my husband’s comments in my head, like “so what if you pass out, it will be like a nap, you won’t die!”
Every time I would do something that I was in fear of doing before, I would celebrate! Even if I only did it for a few minutes. It was proof to me that it was ok. Then I would increase the amount of time to continue building that trust within my mind.
Once I realized that I was in control and that I had the conscious choice to let fear win or not, I had the power to over come anything.
The truth is, you don’t want to give your fear more power than it deserves. You control your mind. Don’t let your mind control you.
You have to be willing to push yourself outside your comfort zone. I tell my students all the time, in order to heal you must get comfortable with being uncomfortable.
It’s easy to stay in our cocoons because it’s our safe place. Yet, a caterpillar can’t become a butterfly without a bit of transformation.
Lets talk about how to overcome those other common fears that I mentioned
The fear of failure. One of the greatest ways to conquer this fear is to shift the way you look at failure. Instead of looking at failure as a negative, look at it as a positive. See the possibility of your failure to challenge yourself in new ways and open up doors you may not have realized were there. You may not see it now, but your failure may end up being a blessing in disguise. If someone taught you that failure is a bad thing, maybe when you were a child, then keep in mind that was that persons program. You don’t need to take on their program. They had that belief and you can choose to take it on as your own or not.
Fear that nothing is going to work– The best thing that you can do is see those attempts to heal in the past as part of your healing journey. Those things didn’t work because they needed to not work in order to lead you to the work that does work! Doing mind body work isn’t the first choice for many people and there is a good reason that it isn’t. All the other things need to NOT work in order to be open to it.
Second, shift from fearing nothing is going to work to being hopeful that something will. You may not know what it is, but remain focused that you will be led to it.
Just an FYI, there really isn’t something magical out there that you are going to find to fix you. The only thing that can do that is you. But finding a coach or program that will assist you to do that is the solution that you want to find. My goal or job is not to heal anyone. My job is to teach someone to become their own healer so they can use their own power to change their life and health.
The last fear, having the fear of symptoms and that there could be something really wrong is all about lack of trust in your body. You trust your body to heal a cut, you need to trust it to heal anything. This is where learning about the science of your body’s own ability to heal comes into play. This fear is just an old pattern and you can shift it by learning new information. We teach this in the foundational steps of the MBR program and you can also learn it in the free masterclass “Why can’t I heal”. Once you have new proof and understanding for why your symptoms are there, you will no longer fear them.
The solution to fixing all our fears and problems is being able to shift our perception. Its why I tell people that shifting your perception is the most important skill you will need to heal. You can learn more about that on episode #11. Once you are able to shift your perception, you can then take action.
So now I’m going to ask you a question, How much of your time, health and life is fear costing you?
If you didn’t have the fears that you have, what would you have? That is what you are missing out on.
If you didn’t have the fear of failure, maybe you wouldn’t procrastinate on your own healing, which means that the fear of failure is keeping you from healing, and living your best life. And when you hear that, you have the option to continue letting fear drive your bus or you take the driver’s seat. There is always an option.
I encourage you to write down all the fears that you have. Then next to each fear, write down what you are missing out on by letting that fear win. Take a look at that list and decide which is more important to you, staying in fear or going for what you’re missing out on. Hopefully you choose the later and then you can write down one small action step you can take to move forward. Fear wants you to take it on, compete with it rather than give into it.
One of the scariest things is confronting your fears. When we don’t deal with our fears, it can hold us back from the life intended for us. The last thing we want to do is look back and say that we let fear keep us from living the life we wanted for ourselves. Trust that you are bigger than any fear you face.
If you have chronic symptoms, I can guarantee that fear is playing a role in why they are not healing. How can I be so sure? Because every single one of the students that I have worked with has. Fear is a major contributor to why people are not healing.
But the good news is this, You can beat fear; you just need to train yourself to take control rather than letting it control you.
Consciously unwiring old patterns will always feel more difficult than when you program your patterns subconsciously.
There are two choices – make the decision to let go of fear or stay where you are. Sometimes we need someone to talk to about our fears and help us create a plan of how to move forward. Often, our past traumas can influence our fears if they remain unprocessed. This is where coaching provides an objective person to listen and provide the tools and skills for overcoming fear and making the decisions we need to make.
If you would like additional help identifying the fears that are blocking your healing and would like to create a plan of how to move forward, I encourage you to schedule a free 30 minute health break through call with me.
Jenny Peterson is a Chronic Illness Coach who helps people find freedom from chronic mental, physical, and emotional conditions by releasing stress off the nervous system, using her step by step Mind Body Rewire System. After resolving Lyme, digestive problems, panic attacks, skin issues and much more, using the same brain techniques that she teaches, she knew that she had to help others get back their life and health too. Her mission is to bring hope and a solution to a world where so many are suffering emotionally and physically with chronic illness, by shining a light on the body and mind’s ability to heal when unconscious stressors are eliminated. She is a practitioner, speaker and teacher, who is passionately passing on the tools to reduce stress and allow the body to heal itself!