A long time ago I realized that watching horror movies, although created, fictional, and ‘not real’, became a destructive element within my body, and even though it wasn’t ‘real or true’, that didn’t make a single difference to the way my mind and body interpreted and assimilated that sort of stimuli. This makes me always question, what is going on within an individual when they play those violent video games, what is that doing to their chemistry and state of mind?
Perceived threats, either real or imagined create the same physiological response in your body, which means you really can’t afford to have hormones like cortisol and adrenaline unbridled and rampant in your bloodstream in excess when you sit down to your Friday night movie, or just try to navigate life. Here’s why!
Fear is the experience of our body’s chemistry. The brain recognizes the threat and releases chemical hormones like adrenaline (epinephrine) and cortisol (the stress hormone) both released by the adrenal glands which sit nicely anatomically on each kidney in your body. The adrenal glands weigh little more than 10 grams if that. Even though I’ve written about this before, I am still in amazement and advocating respect for something that weighs so little with its significance in everything from our ability to cope, our chemistry, and our potential longevity. Survival is linked to the hormonal chemistry that originates within the adrenal glands, your life really does depend on your response to any given situation.
When you go into fear, your body becomes primed for action. This can be a good thing when you are about to be attacked by something, it will motivate you to ‘move’, get out of the way. It will miraculously give you the energy and strength to lift an incredibly heavy object away from someone’s leg, then carry an injured man out of a cave, as I have done in the middle of a cave rescue in North Queensland, nearly 30 years ago. While on the subject of that rescue, when my husband and I were in the middle of helping this 21 year old man who weighed twice as much as myself, down a steep embankment, and nearly 2 kilometers away from help, both Darryl and I had hearts racing and we were sweating. I can remember my mind was on one thing only, and that was to get this young guy down into a waiting van so he could be transported to the hospital.
The young tour guide from the caving company we were on tour with was on his first maiden official guided tour. I could sense he was thinking about how he would explain this to the head office! I think back to the stress he would have been under, his first tour, and some young bloke decides to jump into the cave rather than climb down like the rest of us! When our rescue was complete and said patient elevated his legs on all of our jackets in the shelter of the van, only then did we become aware of how sore and beat up we the rescuers were. The adrenaline had kicked in and the rest is history as they say. Oh and don’t worry we vouched for the new guy, includingng the injured young man, that he was an excellent guide, and so he didn’t lose his job.
The injured man had broken his ankle. To get him out of the cave took all our strength, in the fear, stress, and obvious heat of the moment we summoned up all the will we had and more getting him to safety. That’s when fear and stress releasing adrenaline and cortisol can be a good thing, however, the body could not cope with that sort of chemistry whirling around 24/7, yet for many people, sadly this is the case. The chemistry of fear is an interesting chemical reaction, its a response that is woven into all of us for survival, fight, or flight, but if this chemistry is exhausted and overused it can be directly linked to a physiological downfall in the body, which can contribute to diseases like cancer, inflammation, tumors, and brain decline, mental illnesses just to name a few. Combine Fear with alcohol, drugs, amphetamines, and you have a cocktail for disaster.
When the body sends out a chemical SOS, the message to the heart is - to beat faster. There’s another message to the lungs which is - to expand the bronchial region for more oxygen to the bloodstream. The arteries constrict to increase blood pressure. To make the vessels smaller, the pressure of the fluid within them is higher. The message to the stomach is to slow down, stop what you are doing, there is a crisis in the brain. Stop putting energy into digestion because the energy needs to be used for the muscles. The increase of cortisol and adrenalin in the bloodstream has very dramatic effects on the muscles. The area behind the skin sends a message to start sweating. This is what happened in the middle of the cave rescue, that life-saving cortisol and adrenalin pumped through the blood to facilitate the dynamic energy needed for the rescue!
So the heart speeds up, and the stomach slows down. When the digestive system is abandoned, it’s much like you being interrupted on the phone. You take the call while sitting in your stationary car and while the handbrake may not have been set, your vehicle begins to roll, but you are receiving a call with perceived more pressing matters. The vehicle hits a tree and then you are abruptly aware of the impact of the distraction, much like an abandoned digestive system, you have another problem now. Perceived threats ‘fear’ takes the attention away from the vital physiological activity which the body needs to keep you well and happy.
During the Pandemic period, the last two and a half years, many people were and still are in fear, they have been living in ‘sympathetic nervous system‘, getting caught up in defense of a decision to vaccinate or not, getting overwhelmed with the virus itself, losing a loved one, becoming separated for months, years, and the social dilemma that has caused will be measured now and in the years to come. Watching the news affects the adrenal glands, the stress response, which is why we caution against this. You can be informed but not inundated!
Friends dropped over during the week, and I made them a cuppa of my good old Lime and Fennel brew, which is 3 drops of Lime Essential Oil and 3 drops of Fennel, in a 1.5-liter glass jug. I added room temperature water to half of the jug, then topped up the brew with hot water from the kettle. Pouring this out into a glass or ceramic mugs, the smell was intoxicating, delightful. Sipping on this brew is calming and therapeutic.
I explained to my guests that the enteric nervous system (ENS) is intrinsically linked to our perception of what is happening around us. If we are feeling anxious (the number one issue in the world at the moment), this sends a message throughout the body in almost the same way as fear does. The enteric nervous system (ENS), invisible as it is, becomes a highway for emotions and feelings, that set off more chain reactions and physiological responses.
To counter these chemical responses, to surf our way out of this experience we need to be mindful of how much time we are in the sympathetic nervous system (SNS (running in fear, nervous reaction). The opposite of the Sympathetic nervous system (SNS) is the Parasympathetic nervous system (PNS). If you haven’t worked this out so far, to be in the chemistry of Parasympathetic bliss, it’s when you are breathing mindfully, deeply, in a yoga position; gardening; watching a comedy or a calmer uplifting movie; moving gently to music; meditation; resting; inhaling a specific scent - essential oil - aroma; oh and yes even surfing!
Parasympathetic nervous system moments in your day are like positive deposits in your ‘Wellness bank account’. The sympathetic nervous system response is when the rest of the body is in ‘sympathy’ for your interpretation, when you are literally being robbed of life, sending those chemicals I mentioned previously to the blood, and behaving like a bunch of reckless teenagers on a night bender.
The reality is, there are always going to be sympathetic moments, like receiving the bad or sad news, more work being demanded of you, making decisions that are life-changing. How we deal with this is in direct proportion to how much parasympathetic activity we allow ourselves in a day. It comes down to choice. How are you going to react to the issues that arrive in your daily parameter? How are you going to balance your chemistry out? I have many more ideas on this, which you will be able to enjoy. Anne Clark.
If you would like more information you will find some good stories and backing in my latest book ‘Lifestyle Reset’ - ‘The essential guide to healing you and the planet’.