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Roots of Fear
Majid Ali, M.D.

Fear is a big part of the stress-anxiety-depression continuum. The following is a conversation with a 77-year-old man with long- standing diarrhea, adverse food reactions, headache, hypothyroidism, and hypoglycemia.

"I've cut out exercise," he said.
"Why?" I asked.
"Because I'm afraid of heart palpitations."
"Do you think if you didn't do exercise, you wouldn't have palpitations?"
"I guess I will, but it is the fear."
"What should be the answer to the problem of fear?"
"There should be a way to get rid of fear."
"What are you afraid of?"
"Of heart attack."
"What would happen if you had a heart attack?"
"I would be incapacitated. I might die."
"What do you think will happen when you die?"
"I believe there is a heaven and I hope I will end up there."
"Heaven is a good place. Why are you afraid of it?"
"Sometimes you have two things. Because I have doubt there is a heaven."
"What will happen if there is no heaven?"
"I wouldn't know about it. I would be finished."
"Do you think you will die one day?"
"Sure."
"Why don't you simply accept death?"
"I go back to fear. I think it is from the family. That would be my grandmother."
"How long has she been dead?"
"Quite some time."
"More than 30 years?"
"More like forty years."
"How much longer do you think she will keep you in fear?"
"She is not keeping me in fear. I'm keeping myself in fear."
"Nobody has ever died when doing prayerful exercise. At least I'm not aware of it. People die when they are huffing and puffing to reach some silly goal of pulse rate or whatever nonsense is there," I explained, then asked, "Does that reduce your fear?"
"When I did the exercise my heart rate was between 60 and 70. I guess I should overrule the fear. Will the fear go away if I do gentle exercise?"
"I don't know. Probably not."
"So, should I do exercise?"
"Yes, gentle, non-goal-oriented. Now, do you think fear has anything to do with your exercise?"
"Probably not. Then what is it?"
"I guess I hear her (grandmother) so much, 'Don't do this, don't do that. One thing I can tell you. You will laugh. She used to be very nervous. Once her doctor told her to smoke cigarettes to relieve her anxiety."
"That's not surprising. Tell me, were you ever in therapy to deal with your fears?"
"Many years ago. For some years."
"How much did it help?"
"I didn't think it helped any. Forty years later I'm still fearful."
"And now?"
"It boils down to that I'm responsible for it."
"No, I don't think you're responsible for it."
"No?"
"No."
"Once I was in a band. I was late coming in. I felt bad, felt diminished."
"Tom, you were born with some overactive fear cells and some weak comfort cells. Over the years, those fear cells have become stronger and stronger. The weak comfort cells have become weaker and weaker."
"You think so?'
"Yes, I do. Every time you tell yourself I'm afraid, you make those fear brain cells more active and stronger, and your comfort brain cells become weaker. This happens every time you tell yourself I am afraid. The fear cells in the brain are like fat cells; the more you feed them, the fnatter they get. Now, tell me, will this explanation help you let your grandmother be at peace in her grave?"
"Yes. No. I guess I don’t know. But, what shall I do?"
"Everytime you tell yourself I'm afraid, say, 'Tom, congratulations, you have just fed your fear cells again. You just weakened your comfort cells again.' And then add: ' Shall I let my grandmother be at peace in her grave now or not? She has been in her grave for more than forty years. Isn't that enough time?' So, next time, you think you’re fearful, take a few Feather Breaths."*
"Just that?"
"Yes. You could be a small wildflower clinging to a tiny twig near the dirt and be angry at a large red rose swaying over your head. You could yell at the rose for its fragrance and because people look at it and not at you. Or you find the heart for seeing the marvel, majesty, and mystery of the wildflower that YOU are. When you tell yourself 'I'm fearful you could tell yourself, 'Tom, you are back at feeding your fear cells again. You're back at oppressing your comfort cells again. You're back at excavating and punishing your grandmother. Your suffering is real. The question is: Will you fan it or find a way to nurse your weakened comfort cells back to health? And let your grandmother be at peace. Maybe yelling at your hyperactive fear cells would help sometimes. And, yes, do take some Q-10 lozenges when you exercise prayerfully and don't count your pulse. And let your legs gently guide you. Don't push them. Let your legs, rather than your fear brain cells, or the pulse rate guide you. One last thing: don't do exercise if your ankles are swollen. Then come and see me."

Neurochemistry of Fear

The past inhabits all cell populations in the body. The activities of all cells are energetic events. In this case study, I introduce the terms "fear brain cells" and "comfort brain cells" to focus on the neurochemistry of fear. The overactivity of "fear brain cells" and underactivity of "comfort brain cells" are energetic events, the former of excess (and wasteful) energy and the latter of energy deficit. This "energy model of fear"—in my view—offers clarity. I see the enormous network of neurons as a vast and ever-changing, self-regulating kaleidoscope in which the fear brain cells are held in check by the comfort brain cells. Fear cells cause increased production of cortisol—the adrenal hormone which, when in excess, feeds the chemistry of energetic depletion, fear, agitation, and anger. The comfort cells, by contrast, produce oxytocin, dopamine, and serotonin—the brain hormones that bring serenity, compassion, and enlightenment. A purist might challenge me and insist there are really no fear cells, nor comfort cells. My response: If you substitute the words fear cells with fear neurotransmitter pathways and the words comfort cells with comfort neurotransmitter pathways, you will your answer.

When an individual allows the fear brain cells to hyperventilate and feed their fury, the comfort brain cells are literally suffocated. Each time, the past is allowed to fan fear cells, the comfort cells are oppressed. So what is required is disciplined efforts to inhabit the brain cells with new images of life, compassion, and healing. This is exactly opposite to the prevailing practice of excavating the dead to resolve the suffering of the present, as Tom tried during his years of therapy.

How might my neuro-energetic model of fear be applied to the current crisis in the Afghan-Pak region? The U.S. is imposing its "drone democracy" on the region, essentially driven by insecurity and fear. I will leave the answer to this question to the imagination of the readers.

All emotions are energetic events. The readers would have recognized that my model of "overative-underactive neural pathways" in the neurochemistry of fear is fully applicable to all other forms of emotions. It explains just as well the neurochemistry of anger, hate, compassion, and enlightenment. Some readers might also wonder if this model of overative-underactive neural pathways is also applicable to disorders ordinarily not associated with emotions. Indeed that is true. I present an excellent example of this in a companion article entitled "Burning Mouth Syndrome."

*For details of Feather Breath, go to:

http://www.ethicsinmedicine.us/autonomic_breathing_test.htm

List of Related Articles

* Mental Health

* Anxiety?

* What Is Anxiety?

* Stress - Physiology and Pathology

* What Is Stress?

* Seven for Stress

* Roots of Fear

* Be Your Own Healer

* Be-Aware Living

* BeWare Living

* Nutrition for Health and Healthful Aging

 


 

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