Fear is among the most powerful of emotions. When any one of us feels fear, we are hard pressed to stand our ground. We flinch, we cringe, we shy away, or we flat out run. When I search through the memories of my life, the times when I felt afraid seem the most potent. As the chemical of fear coursed through my veins, each tiny detail of the event has been seared into my memory. I remember so clearly what I was thinking at the time, what room I was in, the time of day, as well as the agony I felt as I made the difficult choices necessary to get out of that situation. Interestingly, I don’t remember all of the people around me. When you are afraid, the world closes in on you, your peripheral vision shuts off, and you are only aware of the people right in front of you, as your heart beats strongly in your chest.
Some people become addicted to the heightened sensations they feel when they are afraid and chase after them. These are the people who climb mountains, jump out of airplanes, and tie bungee cords to tall bridges. I am not one of those people. Although I am afraid of a number of things, dizzying heights are a featured part of most of them. A friend of mine shares my fear of heights. Visiting the Grand Canyon with her husband and son a number of years ago, she couldn’t bring herself to walk toward the edge. Her husband and son walked eagerly to the edge of the canyon to better see the spectacular view, while she clung to the cliffs behind her, terrified. A concerned observer asked her if she was alright, and tried to coax her away from the wall. “You don’t understand,” my friend told her. “Everything that I love in this world is right now standing at the lip of that canyon, and I’m terrified of losing it!”. Our fears can take many forms.
When we feel fear, our adrenal-corticol system dumps as many as thirty different hormones into our bloodstream in an attempt to handle the perceived threat. These hormones cause our heart rate and blood pressure to increase, our pupils to dilate, and our muscles to tense. Understandably, this large output of hormones is stressful for our adrenal glands and if they are frequently called upon to release them, your adrenal glands will weaken. Due to the stresses of modern-day life, many people are in a constant state of anxiety, if not outright fear. Adrenal gland burnout is becoming increasingly common. According to Chinese medicine, the adrenal glands are considered to be a part of proper kidney functioning. Since each of your adrenal glands sit atop each kidney, if your adrenal glands weaken, your kidneys will tend to weaken as well. In addition to the exhaustion and poor stamina seen with people who have weakened adrenals, there can also be symptoms like increased frequency of urination and lower back pain, which are more commonly associated with weakened kidneys.
One way to protect our kidneys and adrenals from becoming weakened is to avoid feeling fear as much as possible. Although it would be impossible to eradicate fear from our lives, we can try to simplify our lives so as to remove unnecessary stresses and anxieties. We can decide not to accept the promotion that will dramatically increase our responsibilities and lengthen our days. We can choose not to drive ourselves through congested traffic and take public transportation, or carpool instead. We can try to minimize the time we spend with people we find stressful.
Those people who are born with weaker kidneys will have to take stronger precautions than those who are stronger. Naturally, daily stresses and fears will take a greater toll on people who are already inclined towards kidney weakness. If your parents or grandparents had a lot of kidney problems, or if frequent urination, incontinence, or poor stamina runs through your family, then you should take greater precautions against stress. In Chinese medicine, it is known that while fear can weaken the kidneys, having weak kidneys inclines us to be more fearful when others are not. Aside from using herbs like those in our Kidney Tea to gradually strengthen your kidneys and adrenal glands, you can also perform soothing exercises to calm your body and mind. Yoga and meditation are wonderful ways to slow down your sympathetic nervous system and engage the more calming para-sympathetic nervous system. Just like learning to play the piano or the clarinet, with practice, you can also become more skilful in activating your para-sympathetic nervous system, and this can extend your life.
While only a small percentage of us actually enjoy jumping out of airplanes, there is a more common way to feel the exhilerating effects of fear, and you can find it at your local amusement park. Every year, my two sons try to coax me on to one of the new, extremely high roller coasters at Canada’s Wonderland, Toronto’s amusement park. One year, against my better judgement, I gave in to them. As the roller coaster climbed the crest of a series of high hills, I clutched the bar in front of my seat with a death grip. A panic set in, and my heart beat so quickly that I had to close my eyes and breathe deeply to calm myself, trying to ignore the sensations that my body was experiencing.
Later, as I described to my husband the fear that was coursing through my body, he wondered why I couldn’t just relax and allow myself to feel like Superman, flying through the sky without a care. I found it an interesting way to re-frame the problem. Rather than picturing myself careening through the air in a death-box, I could choose to imagine that I was flying freely and expertly, without danger. For those of us who feel fear frequently, it would be a good exercise to try to re-frame all of our fears this way, imagining ourselves as super-beings with all the strengths and abilities required to survive the incident with ease. Even so, I don’t think I’ll be riding that roller coaster again!
About the author: Rebecca Wong has been working in the herbal business since 2000. She has received her training in acupuncture and herbalism from respected authorities Paul Des Rosiers and Vu Le at the Ontario College of Traditional Chinese Medicine in Toronto, and Michael Tierra at the East West Herb School in California.