The Marriage of Fear and Worry

Fear is a primal emotion. It is an emotion that when present, often leads to us lose our grounding. It can propel us back into old habits of relating, old destructive thought patterns, and behaviors. Most of all, even when the felt sense subsides, our body is left with a host of “leftovers” to deal with.

When fear arises the sympathetic nervous system fires up, rightfully so, preparing the body for either a flight, fight or freeze response. It is a primal emotion due to this very visceral response. The body has no way of knowing where the fear is stemming from. In other words, does it really need to tighten and prepare for attack as if your life depends on it? The body does not differentiate. It will release the same hormones, and tighten in the same areas as IF it were under attack. Part of the reason this is so, is due to the area of the brain where this visceral response takes place. The back of the brain, or our “reptilian brain” is not about rational responses. It is about the most primal of responses. Therefore, rational processing is not taking place. As a matter of fact, when fear is heightened, our ability to process and rationalize slows down, yet our heart rate, and rate of respiration increase. With this increase comes along muscular tightening.

I would like you for a moment to consider how often you are in fear. I know the quick response may be, oh not often, just when it is a major event. But now consider the less obvious, such as, how often are you preoccupied in worry? Worry is a habitual response pattern in the mind born from fear. Is it the same primal fear we may feel when under attack? Not necessarily, however, worry is less obvious. Meaning it is insidious in the way it builds, preoccupies, and lands in the body over time. It lingers and erodes. All experiences land in our body. The term issue in the tissues is for a good reason. Worry, over time, builds up in our tissues, especially in areas of the lower half of the body, our psoas muscle, our hips, our low back. These are the primal areas of the body, the areas that are most vulnerable, most in need of protection, when we feel afraid. As we engage in a worried mind day after day we can be assured that these areas are holding, tightening, and reacting.

Releasing the worried mind takes much practice. Worry is about the past and the future. It is never about the exact moment. Here is where we can call in the body for assistance in breaking the “worry chain.” Take a breath, close your eyes, and notice all the worries moving through your mind, a stream of worry, one after the next. Now, with your next breath scan your body and feel where each worry “lives” in your body. This may be very evident as attention is usually drawn to the most obvious places of tension first. Notice these areas and now take a big breath in through your nose and let it release through your mouth. Now rescan and this time search for the areas not under tension. Search for the areas that feel neutral. This may take some effort, as the conditioned mind will want to go right back to what bothers us, or what feels really good, rather than what feels neutral. Keep this scan happening over and over until you keep landing in the neutral zone. This embodied experiential is a great little exercise in retraining a worried mind from the past and the future to right here, right now concentrated on the non-attached place of neutrality, offering the mind a break from the habitual worry chain of events and retraining it into the present moment.

May all beings live in peace and ease.