Freedom from fear

Covid update

All is holding steady.

Cases remain in the 30 per day in the county range and around 100,000 per day in the country. This is not nothing, but it’s also not indicative of virus floating in every aisle. 300 daily cases was our Jan ’22 peak.

No one knows what’s coming. There are more questions than answers.

“Unfortunately, looking in the past doesn’t help us a great deal to look in the future for [a] virus that has baffled a lot of us and made predictions almost irrelevant,” said acting chairman [of the vaccines advisory committee] Arnold Monto, a University of Michigan epidemiologist.

So there is that. 

It reminds my what my Uncle Bob, a doctor, told me at my medical school graduation. He said, “we have a lot of technology and a lot of advances, but the practice of medicine is still just a shot in the dark.”

Thanks, Bob.

Not exactly what a graduate is hoping to hear, but it plays out repeatedly and it’s playing out right now. The theme to the Pandemic on many fronts is “we just don’t know.” 

Ignorance and disconnect

In general not knowing makes us feel uncomfortable and lost, and I would argue it is the root cause of our fear. Said in reverse: knowledge and connection makes the fear go away. Let’s acknowledge that fear is our mortal enemy.

Fear makes a person hypervigilant and suggestible. It freezes the creative flow. Somehow, it’s seen by some people (in position of authority- parents, teachers, government) as a motivator. It should be recognized as an unacceptable motivator. It might get short term results (compliance), but the actions aren’t free. The ends don’t justify the means. Furthermore, as we will see below fear makes us sick.

Freedom from fear

One of my mentors taught me to not let fear into the care of patients. It resonated with me then, and it does now. It’s a challenging path. I am making the bold statement that all therapy should be rooted in diminishing fear.

There is a growing body of research and technique around gaining access to physical symptoms through the mind. Researchers are finding that a fair share of chronic symptomatology, especially those that are tough to understand and treat with the typical body-based approaches, have a brain-based origin that are being surprisingly and successfully shifted with brain-based therapies.

What does that mean exactly?

A lot of symptoms manifest in the body but start in the nervous system. You can’t shift them by manipulating the body.

What symptoms?

You’ll be surprised to hear that the majority of chronic pain can be accessed by this approach. Not all, but the majority of it. There are certain ways a person can be evaluated to determine if a symptom has a body origin or a ‘neuroplastic’ origin. Certain symptom complexes such as chronic anxiety, nausea, dizziness, even negative thoughts and more fit this criteria as well- in addition to chronic pain.

A therapy, known as Somatic Tracking, is rooted in reassurance, education and skill building. As a first step it addresses the fear that is inherent in disease. And once you realize that you symptoms are neuroplastic the step is to teach yourself that they don’t represent a dysfunction in an organ but rather a nervous system loop that can be shifted. It’s a lot less scary. And once you grasp that, you are free.

Let’s walk you through an exercise with it. The following is taken from a handout from Boulder Community Health, an example I found online.

Why should I consider this exercise?

Remember that pain (or anxiety, nausea, or dizziness) is your brain’s alarm signal. When you do this exercise mindfully, it is teaching your brain that the pain or distress is not dangerous to you, and that you are safe and in control of the situation.

By simply examining the painful sensations without emotion, your brain is learning that the pain or discomfort is nothing to be afraid of, and without the fear, the pain loses its power.

The goal of the exercise is not to get rid of the pain. In fact, the more you try to get rid of the pain, the more you are telling your danger-alarm mechanism that you are in trouble, and the more likely it is to continue to run the alarm pathway of pain, anxiety, or discomfort. The goal of the exercise is to teach your brain that it is safe and in no danger, but you don’t care whether the pain changes, or gets better or worse while you are tracking it.

When should I do this exercise?

Practice this exercise when pain, distress or negative sensations or thoughts happen any time during the day. When you find yourself using your normal avoidance strategies to get away from the pain or distress you are feeling, take just 2-3 minutes and do a somatic tracking exercise to mindfully explore and examine your pain or discomfort. (You can then go ahead and do your avoidance strategy if needed.)

Somatic Tracking Exercise

When you notice pain, distress, or other negative thoughts, take two minutes (or more if you like):

  1. Notice it with interest, maybe even with a little curiosity, but with no emotional reactivity. Almost like a hiker who reached the top of a ridge and is just looking at the landscape on the other side with interest. Pay attention to how the pain moves around or changes in quality but do so without emotion.
  2. Accept it as happening right now but realize that this thought or body sensation is transient and caused by the brain. Say to yourself “It’s just a thought, a sensation, or neurons firing.”
  3. Remind yourself that since these are just sensations, they are not in any way threatening to you. These sensations are not dangerous and cannot harm you.
  4. Tell yourself “I don’t need to do anything about this right now because this is not harmful, and it will pass.”
  5. Tell yourself: “I’m okay. I’ll be fine. There is actually nothing wrong with my [back/head/stomach/chest] because I am healthy and strong.” Or say “I am safe, and there is no danger from these nerve impulses. I am safe. I am not in danger.”

Isn’t that self-talk beautiful? This exercise is the opposite of fear-based motivation. And viewed in reverse: fear is the source of a lot of body pain, negative thought loops, anxiety, etc. Fear truly is our mortal enemy. One perspective sees it as the opposite of love. And I want to suggest to you the following idea: for this existence we find ourselves working through, the main goal is is to weave love into every molecule with which we come into contact. And we do that through our practice and intention and by facing our fears. As always, here’s to your efforts and your journey.

More resources:
Video description from Heart IQ
Alan Gordon’s book, The Way Out