What are you Afraid of?

IMG_3330It is no surprise to anyone that we live in a culture of fear. For the first time we actually have most of our needs met. Good housing, excessive amounts of food and few predators. However, having a low level of fear has been selected for in our evolution. Our brains were designed that way to keep us safe.

There is a part of our brain called the amygdala that is ancient. When I say ancient I’m not referring to your age. I am referring to the fact that it developed a really long time ago from an evolutionary perspective. This fear was instrumental in keeping us safe when we were running away from predators. The amygdala, affectionately called the lizard brain by Martha Beck, has nothing to do all day but send out fear signals. These are experienced as a low level awareness to be careful, that something might go wrong, that we need to be watching out.

Funny thing is that we no longer have imminent danger most of the time. We are sensing this fear and we don’t know why. So, a more modern part of our brain, the centre of our thoughts, tells us stories about what we should be worried about. Brain researchers have done experiments on people that have the left and right sides of their brains separated, an operation that is sometimes performed to stop extreme seizures. If they put a barrier between the eyes and show the person something to only one eye, that side of the brain will see it and the other side will come up with an explanation for it. The explanation often has nothing to do with what the eye on the other side of the brain is seeing.

So we can be sitting in our living rooms, fully fed, protected from the elements and predators (for the most part) and still be feeling fear. The media has taken advantage of this. Our newscasts are no longer providing information; they are strictly feeding us fear. On one morning news show that I used to watch regularly while I was on the treadmill, I was amazed that there was a story about a murder–everyday. The significance of this inclusion became apparent one morning when there were no fresh kills. There was not a current crisis so they dug up an old file on an unsolved, particularly gruesome, murder that had happened many years before. The producers of the show had decided that they would always fill the murder slot, even if there wasn’t one.

The same thing is happening in health circles. You must not eat this. You must eat that. These marketing tools are all predicated on our fear of being mortal. We have been sold the belief that if we just pay attention to the latest finding we will live forever. This is not true. The people that are living to be 110 now were born in 1900. They were living a long time before any of this new knowledge was out there and they seem to have survived anyway.

Within my lifetime every food or food group has been the culprit in bad health and every food has been the saviour. Remember when eggs would kill you? Now they know that they contain a compound that actually lowers cholesterol. The same can be said for bananas that were considered “just carbohydrates” and I can go on and on about this.

Our reality is that we do have a lizard brain that sends out fear signals. Our more modern brain looks around to see what we should be frightened about and can easily find something. But isn’t this exhausting? Wouldn’t it be nicer to recognize that the fear is just a cast off from our cave dwelling selves and that we don’t have to live by its whims?

Here’s how to tell the difference. You feel fear. Notice that you are feeling fear. Hear what your brain is telling you the fear is about. Ask yourself if there is anything that you can do RIGHT NOW to keep yourself safe from the threat. For instance, if you are walking across the street and you see a large SUV careening towards you at an alarming rate the answer would be yes. Right now, I can do what it takes to get out of the way of the vehicle.

On the other hand, if you are worried that you might not have enough money if you live to 115 and you are weeding your garden at the time, recognize it as lizard fear. There is nothing that can be done right now. I’m not saying that reviewing your finances might not be in order, but you cannot effectively do that while knee deep in compost in your back yard. So, see it for what it is. It is lizard fear. It is that low level fear that kept our species safe for centuries. It is not a real fear. Spending time while you are gardening thinking about everything that could possibly go wrong is a waste of time. You could be enjoying yanking out the weeds, improving the garden, enjoying yourself because you are in fact OK.

The key difference here is action. If there is nothing that you can do at this moment to address the fear, it is lizard fear. Acknowledge it. Thank it for keeping you safe. Recognize that you are OK and allow yourself to see how much good there is in your life and have a nice day……

2 thoughts on “What are you Afraid of?

  1. Lizard fear! Excellent. I’m going to label what I can’t do anything about today as “lizard fear”. Somehow having that label puts life to what I already knew. And, do you remember…we were all going to die because of something on apples…and someone was putting razor blades in Halloween candy….and strangers will kidnap and kill your child. All hysterically overdone fears that created industries, unnecessary government programs, etc. Well said!

    However, I am in favor of taking away guns.


    1. Once again, I’m so happy I’m Canadian. Guns are very dangerous and they are not worshipped here like they are in the US. Funny thing. We eliminated most of the natural threats like food shortages and lack of water and shelter and added in some new and real ones.


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