Fear is a very captivating emotion. There are simple ways anyone can use to override it or bypass it or reframe it – And it has to do with not only words, it has everything to do with your biology.
Fear is a fundamental emotion that every human experiences at some point in their life. It can be triggered by various situations, ranging from simple daily activities to more severe events such as accidents or traumatic experiences.
It is a response generated by the vagal nerve, which runs through the body from the brain to the heart and gut. This nerve determines how we respond to stress or input, whether it is fight, flight, freeze, or relax. In this article, we will discuss the significance of understanding the vagal nerve and its role in controlling our responses to fear.
- 1 Fear in the Body
- 2 Techniques to Hack Fear and Stress
- 3 Conquering Fear: Overcoming the Vagal Response
- 4 Creating your Fear-Free Space
Fear in the Body
Fear is a response, a primal response that is generated by the vagal nerve. If you reach to the back of your head, you’ll find there’s a bump there, that’s the Neanderthal bun. And if you go below that, you’ll find a dent towards your neck and inside is this nerve – the vagal nerve (or the vagus nerve).
When they say “what happens in vagus doesn’t stay in vagus” it’s true, because this vagal nerve runs all the way from your brain to one side and then through the heart and then through the gut.
It is not the longest nerve bundle in your body, but it is probably the most important one. It runs around your neck and it goes through these various channels. The nerve response from vagal determines whether you’re fearful or whether you’re chill.
In other words, it determines whether it’s fight, flight, flee or freeze, or whether it’s relax and dance and get excited and stimulated and happy and be in the zone and alive.
It is actually the switcher that determines how you’re going to respond at any given moment to stress or to input, “input” meaning current input through your senses, but also the connection of that current input through your senses to what you’ve already believed from the past inputs.
We could say that the vagal nerve calls the shots and it does that by sending messages to the brain, which then sends out chemistry.
Now, it depends on how it frames it. It sends out to every gland, the heart, the gut, messages either to make the heart pound, make the blood go to the extremities so we can run or stay still, basically the biological response to the stimuli.
And the vagal nerve, when played like a violin, changes how you respond.
Techniques to Hack Fear and Stress
One of the coolest things you can do is instant and it plays the vagal nerve physically, through touch or through vibration. Think about something that’s upsetting to you and pull your ears out sideways with your fingers. Take a deep breath and let it out. This is stimulating the vagal nerve through the ears.
You can do one more thing with the ears. If you go behind the ears and you massage behind your ear, the vagal nerve is saying “Oh, we’re safe. We’re relaxed.” If you ever had a puppy or kitten and you rub them behind the ears, they relax. That’s because the vagal nerve is soothed and explained to itself “It’s safe now.”
Another thing you can do – Put your hands on your face, especially if your hands are cool. That’s how a mother lovingly holds her child’s face. You put your hands on your face, and the vagal nerve gets relaxed, it takes it easy.
The vagal nerve happens to like one part of your breath – the expiration. Breathe in and when you let it out, let it out with a sound like “Aaaaaaa”. The vagal nerve loves vibration.
If you are feeling stressed and fearful, what do you do? You usually hold your breath or you breathe really hard. Now, you breathe really hard when you’re having sex and feeling good, too, but that’s a different kind of vagal nerve response. The fear one would be either hold the breath or hyperventilate to stress reactions.
A really cool thing you can do whenever you feel stressed, fearful is – Take a deep breath in and look up, hold it. And then when you let it out, imagine you’re just falling into a chair and going “Aaaaaaa”.
The vagal nerve also likes a smile. This time when you breathe in and look up and when you let it out, smile, you instantly relax. The reason behind looking up is eye fatigue – any time you fatigue the eye muscles or any muscle, it wants to relax.
For example, if you’re looking up, looking really high up, your eyes get tired, they don’t like it, your tendency is to close them. When you close your eyes, you cut out 50% of the visual stimuli of the brain. When you cut out 50% of the activity of the brain, you have more introspection, you have more focus within rather than without. Therefore, at its very basis, it’s an induction technique. You add the vibration to it and you are soothing the vagal nerve, which calms you.
One more thing you can do whenever you feel angry or fearful or both, is to take your hands, palms up and place them on your legs. Breathe in and when you let it out, you let it out with a sound “Aaaaaaa”. At this moment, you’re playing yourself like a violin. And then you understand that you are so much more than words – Words are only a vibration within the human being that allows you to go to a certain level of consciousness or awareness.
Conquering Fear: Overcoming the Vagal Response
Now, one of the things when we talk about fear is something that we call posttraumatic stress or PTSD. Basically, you could pretty much say everybody suffers from PTSD. Most people have had some upsetting event in their childhood or even in their grown up years where they were very startled, upset, stressed, bemused. For instance, timidity is one of the outgrowths of stress from the past.
There is a thing called the fawn response. And a fawn can be very nervous and shaky about things, they may sit quiet, or they may run like hell. But the fawn response in a human is when your Vagal nerve has been stressed so much, and your strategy to overcome the fear or the stress or the upset is to go numb or freeze.
When you go numb or freeze in the fawn response, you become a good little boy or girl, and you do everything your mommy tells you. You become this very good person and you’re so busy trying to please them, you become a people pleaser and that is where you get lost. And what happens is you drift away from yourself as silently as a marshmallow into a cup of hot chocolate. You just vanish.
A lot of people perhaps have lost themselves because of fear, because of that response, that vagal nerve overload. And it has become so prevalent in their consciousness that they don’t even know who they are, they don’t know what their natural responses are. They’re busy pleasing or hiding their true self from themselves.
Therefore, it’s a very important thing when you understand that fear is a conditioned response. And maybe the opposite of fear is love. Love for whom? Not love for the person who demanded that you fold under and do it their way, it’s love for yourself.
The vagal nerve likes anything that stimulates the love response. If you tap your thymus (beneath the sternum), take a deep breath and let it out with an “Aaaaaaa” – You tend to feel good, you tend to feel energized, yet peaceful. That’s tapping a nerve within that structure that now emits endorphins and feel-good chemistry.
The funny thing about stress is we get into fearful habits and sometimes we fear that we’re going to have something bad happen to us, let’s say. So if you’re a worry wart and you go “oh, the world is coming to an end, and it’s terrible and awful” you keep self perpetuating negativity, fear is negativity unless it’s valid, and then it’s probably going to save your life. But if you constantly perpetuate misery with the fear response, what happens is it becomes a habit.
A habit is a repeated response that becomes a belief system within you – If negative, then it’s a downward spiral and it causes a lot of grief, biological grief, which then leads to disease and illness. And we need to know that every thought and every habit that we engage in has a biological response.
We have to pay close attention to what we’re saying to ourselves, as well as how we’re responding. One of the things that you would say is “I’m positive. I’m absolutely positive”, even though you’re not. And it could seem like lying to yourself but everything you did in your life is a story you told yourself and everything is a lie until it becomes manifested truth.
The way this works is very easy: for instance, you could say “My mother hit me all the time.” That may be the truth, right? And how you responded to that was also with the truth “I hid in my closet and learned to shut up or I stuttered” or whatever. Those are all responses to something terrible that happened and well, that became a habit and that became a belief. And the belief was “I have to hide from other people. People aren’t safe. I don’t trust people. People will hurt me.”
Creating your Fear-Free Space
Instead, you could say “it’s safe in my world. In the past, my mother yelled at me and I stood in the closet and I put my hands in my ears and I was scared out of my mind.”
You could say that as the truth, but now “I’m living a different truth. I’m creating a new truth. I’m writing a new chapter that’s going to manifest what I choose for myself.” – “I choose to feel good. I choose to feel in the flow of things, I’m in the zone when I do my sports, I love expressing myself, I love sensuality, I love expressing my physicality” – You create that as a lie. But really, everything’s a story you made up in the first place.
And even if you don’t believe it, say “I love myself”. See how this works for you. Put your hand on your heart right now. Take a deep breath. And even if you think it’s a lie, we don’t care, say “I love myself. I love myself the way I am. The way I’ve been. And the way I’m becoming.” Now put one hand on your shoulder, your other hand on your other shoulder and give yourself a hug – while doing this you can say “I feel so glad to be alive” “I’m proud to be me.” “Joy is my Compass.”
The lesson in all of this is very important. There’s only one person who’s in charge of you. It’s not your mother and what she told you. It’s not your father and what he told you or your teachers or your brother or your sister. And most importantly, it’s not the negative things you’ve told yourself.
There’s only one person responsible for your joy, and you’re it. And when you understand that you are creating your biology, your wellness, your health by the stories you tell yourself, then you get what hypnosis is all about.
We are helping people reframe negative into positive. We are focused on the beauty of being conscious of consciousness itself, which is, in fact, enlightenment. So there’s no need for inner fear. “What are you afraid of, my child? asked the kind teacher. “Oh, sir, the flowers. They are wild”, replied the timid creature. The flowers are wild. And yes, isn’t it beautiful?
Because everything you do is an adventure. And everything teaches you a better way to love yourself and to be conscious of your own consciousness. You have potential. And that potential is in your own hands and you can then celebrate yourself in every way, physically, mentally, spiritually, emotionally.
About Shelley Stockwell
A professional Hypnotherapist for 50 years, Shelley Stockwell-Nicholas PhD is the author of 25 books. (Four of these books she co authored with Ormond McGill.) A popular guest on television and radio, Dr. Shelley has been honoured with three lifetime achievement awards for her contributions to the field of humanistic psychology and hypnotherapy. Her topic today is “How to overcome angst and help others do the same”.