The Science of Fear
by Dan Gleason DC
During the Blitz, when London was bombed nightly for 56 days, Winston Churchill said, “There’s nothing to fear but fear itself.” In grave danger, the Brits had cause for fear. Churchill’s statement rings true today, as well. We have been bombarded by fear-inducing Covid-19 news every day for the better part of a year. We can apply Churchill’s admonition to our current situation.
Fear is processed in the lower, reptilian brain. This feature allows one to act quickly in the face of danger. If being attacked by a poisonous snake, there is no time to ponder next actions. However, there is risk of acting rashly without the tempering actions of the higher logical brain centers. This also makes one vulnerable to being manipulated by fear-inducing images and messages that we have no control to act upon. This induces chronic fear, which can be destructive and, in effect, is a terrorizing force.
Humans are wired for fear, which has a necessary and protective purpose. But it can also be excessive and counterproductive.
Certainly, it is important to teach toddlers to fear things that are “Hot!” and “Sharp!” Adolescents should be cautioned about the perils of strangers and sex. Fear may be tempered to prudence when it comes to spending and financial planning. Fear that leads to care is a good thing, while excessive and prolonged fear can be devastating.
Looking at statistics, which involves using our higher brain functions, may offer comfort to some. Despite the daily images of overflowing hospital wards, floods and shootings, we actually live in a very safe time with a long life expectancy. In 1860, the average life expectancy was 39 years, in 2020 it is 79. Covid-19 has not significantly altered average life expectancy.
An article in Forbes magazine, What is Your Risk of Dying from Covid-19?, attempts to give perspective. A table indicates that, for those infected, Lost Life Expectancy is measured in days, not years. Young people under the age of 19 who contract the virus can expect to lose only 0.1 days of life while infected seniors on average lose 87 days. Below the age of 69 the risk of dying from something else is more than double that of dying from Covid-19. The risks from car accidents, smoking and eating sugar are often taken for granted, even though they are all more likely to be the cause of death than Covid-19. But cold facts and statistics may not offer much comfort if fear-inducing messages and practices are allowed to inhabit our reptilian brains.
Besides being rational, one can also remain calm and less fearful by tapping into the parasympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system. In contrast to the Fight or Flight branch, the parasympathetic response is often referred to as the Feed and Breed system. Sympathetic (emergency) signals emanate from the thoracic spine, while the feed and breed signals emanate from the cranio-sacral nerves. Chiropractic adjustments help balance sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous activity.
Touch can also shift people to a more relaxed state. A simple pat on the back or handshake calms and connects. These actions can even change fight or flight to tend and befriend. Other powerful forms of connecting and consoling include massage, hugging, breathing, yoga and kundalini.
People were wired during prehistory to spend only short periods of time in the fight or flight mode and more time in the feed and breed mode. We can emulate our ancestors when we communicate with our tribe, spend more time in darkness, spend more time outside and spend time with animals.
This is not a suggestion that Covid-19 is not dangerous and that one shouldn’t take precautions. It is merely a suggestion that it is not much more dangerous than many everyday activities. Most consider fear of riding in cars and of flying to be irrational to the point of being phobic. Winston Churchill was telling Londoners to be calm, to not waste energy on excessive worry and to continue to carry on in the face of danger, which is good advice for today.
Information from two books, The Carnivore Code and Sapiens, helped inform this article.
Dr. Dan Gleason is the owner of The Gleason Center located at 19084 North Fruitport Road in Spring Lake. For more info: go to TheGleasonCenter.com or call 616-846-5410.