By – Dr. William Cummins
Fear. Just the word stirs up a lot emotions and reactions in us. We all deal with it, as it is a part of being human. It is an emotion that is meant to help us and keep us safe, but all to often it tends to be overwhelming and ends up holding us back.
This is especially true when we are healing from an injury. Many of times I have heard from patients, “I am afraid to hurt myself again” or “I will not do it because I am afraid it will hurt.”
In these situations I like to quote Seneca, “We are more often frightened than hurt, and we suffer more in imagination than reality.” Part of the healing process is learning to move with fear rather than let it hold us back.
Fear is produced by a structure in your brain known as the amygdala. The amygdala as a central hub of fear processing, as well as anger, worry and yes-even excitement. By the time you are 8 months old your amygdala is fully developed and working full time. It is also connected to your brainstem and your gut thru reflexes to help you survive.
Fear is also connected to your memory. We have two types of memory implicit and explicit. Implicit memory involves unconscious patterns of learning, such as behavior patterns and emotional memories, and even memories from past generations lessons learned by your grandparents, great grandparents, etc… Implicit memory develops first allowing you to emotionally connect with your mamma so you can survive. Explicit memory involves conscious learning including semantic, sensory, motor, and visual forms and does not begin to develop till later in early childhood. It is also how we construct and organize the narrative of self, your identity and beliefs. When we go thru an event that causes us harm, such as a back or neck injury often we develop a fear of that activity that can cause us distress many years after the initial injury because our nervous system remembers the fear and pain we experienced during that time.
The good news is that we can learn to work with fear and reframe our response to those situations. One of my favorite ways to help me overcome fear is to do a fear setting exercise. Check out the following you tube video of how to do it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5J6jAC6XxAI