Are You More Powerful than a Pandemic?
Science has shown that the body has the ability to heal itself. We’ve seen in decades of research that the quality of the water we drink, the food we eat, and the air we breathe, are the strongest determinants of disease and that even our own thoughts and emotions directly affect our health. So when it comes to a “virus” that is spanning the globe, are we really strong enough to prevail? The answer is: Yes!!…but we can create the circumstances to experience things as if we are not.
It’s up to us whether we experience strength and resilience in our bodies to stay healthy despite exposure to pathogens, or we succumb and become ill. The biggest difference? Our own beliefs. Of all the factors shown to affect our health, the #1 factor that affects what’s going on inside our bodies is our own thoughts, emotions, and beliefs. Every thought you have sends a chemical signal throughout your body that affects every single cell. Thoughts of love, joy, and freedom have been shown to support health, strengthen the immune system, and reverse the aging process. Thoughts of anger, fear, or shame do the opposite. In fact, the emotions that go along with these thoughts have been shown to increase inflammation, suppress digestive function, and impair immunity. Emotions have such a powerful effect on our bodies that they even govern our DNA expression and can turn on the genes for disease and turn off the genes for healing.
Of all the thoughts we have, our beliefs, the thoughts we have most frequently, will most powerfully determine whether our body is strong and resilient, or whether we experience illness, fatigue, and pain. One of the mechanisms for this is the way our beliefs can trigger our fight-or-flight system into over-activity. Fight-or-flight, or sympathetic nervous system activity, is meant to be short-lived. Our body goes into a hyper-alert state in order to overcome a threat and ensure our survival. If we’re running from a tiger or putting out a fire, we need our blood and oxygen to go toward the working muscles, and not toward basic housekeeping activities such as digesting our last meal or detoxifying our body. Our brain function also changes. During fight-or-flight, the brain becomes hyper-focused on the task at hand and is not able to contemplate the meaning of life or acknowledge the bigger picture of our reality. During intense stress, our body literally shuts down healing and higher functioning so it can mobilize resources to take care of the immediate threat. This is meant to last for seconds or minutes, not hours, days, and years. When the body is put into fight or flight for prolonged periods of time, there is a massive breakdown in our system and a deterioration of health. In this state, we’re well equipped to handle a serious threat, but very ill able to manage our day to day lives. That’s why this state is meant to be for the short-term only, and is meant to be turned off so that the body can come back into harmony and wellbeing, the natural state we are intended to live in.
Activation of the fight-or-flight system is controlled by the amygdala, a part of the brain that registers change. Our body is set up to do this because any change could possibly be a threat to our survival. The amygdala alerts the system that there has been a change in our outer environment. It’s up to us to determine whether this is a real or just a perceived threat, and to allow our system to carry out the appropriate response. If it’s a true threat, like someone chasing us, it is helpful for us to mobilize our resources and put everything we’ve got into running away. If, however, it is just a perceived threat, like our lover leaving us, where our immediate survival is not actually in question, it would be unwise to throw our body into a profound imbalance to try to fight this circumstance. However, for many of us, our beliefs kick in and we do not make this distinction. For example, we fear our future is in jeopardy and do everything we can to try to control our circumstances. This is where most people are living day in and day out.
When it comes to the possibility of becoming infected by a pathogen like a virus, the same fight-or-flight can kick in. We begin living in fear, believing whatever we’re told and disconnecting from our guidance within. We fail to remember that our body does have the ability to heal, that this is activated when we’re in states of love, and that we’re not actually in an immediate threat that requires fight-or-flight activation. Although the virus could possibly be a life-threat, reacting with fear is not in any way protective. It may be wise to take actions like washing our hands, wearing a mask, or staying physically distant from others, but none of these require us to be in the fight-or-flight state. In fact, going into fear over this impairs our ability to see the situation with clarity, evaluate our options, and choose wisely.
When the body goes into fight-or-flight, our defenses go down. Even if we are resting well, eating healthfully, and doing everything to protect ourselves, our own fear response directly inhibits our immune system. The mechanism designed to support our survival is not meant to be a state we live in day in and day out. However, most Americans are in fact, living in a sustained stage of fight-or-flight. The very act of trying to “fight disease” actually initiates this and blocks our health.
So what do you do when you want to stay healthy despite what may be going on in the world outside you? Here are several ways to turn off fight-or-flight and activate healing that you can do anytime. When you begin practicing these, you activate your body’s resilience and ability to heal itself, and you strengthen your connection with your inner wisdom so you can make the choices that are wisest for your health.
1. Connect with your physical body.
Most of the time our attention is outside of ourselves, and we lose awareness of what’s happening inside. This strengthens our belief systems, triggers the amygdala more easily, and keeps us disconnected from what’s really going on. When we bring our attention back to our physical body, we immediately connect with what’s actually happening here and now; the truth, versus what the mind thinks is happening. Just feeling the physical sensations of your feet on the floor or butt on the seat brings your attention out of the mind and allows stress hormones and inflammation to decrease.
2. Relax your shoulders and breathe.
When we’re in fight-or-flight, we breathe into the upper lung fields, taking shallow, quick breaths and using our neck and back muscles to breathe. This increases anxiety, pain, tension, and headaches and inhibits mental clarity. Simply relaxing our shoulders allows our breath to come deeper into the lower lung fields and activates the vagus nerve, which is involved in the relaxation response, a known component for self-healing.
3. Let go of control.
Believe it or not, when we release control we actually have more power, more clarity, and more ability to make wise choices. Trying to control what’s happening outside of us is futile and wastes a great amount of energy. It also triggers our survival system since fear is the driving force behind needing to control ourselves or our environment. Letting go of control does not mean we do not make choices that serve us! In fact, when we release fear, we are more empowered to choose what truly serves us and to let go of that which does not.
4. Accept the moment as it is.
We’re taught to “fight disease” but this puts most of our energy on what we’re fighting against and actually gives it power. Fighting what we do not want only brings us into greater resistance and inhibits healing. When we embrace what’s happening exactly as it is, it immediately restores harmony to our body. The act of embracing what is, decreases cortisol and inflammation and increases endorphins, oxytocin, and other healing elements. When you notice something happening that is unwanted, feel what’s coming up in you and accept it as it is. Then, instead of acting from avoidance or fight, which saps your power, you act from clarity and are immediately stronger.
5. Talk to your body.
Your cells are listening, and according to your inner system, the leading authority on everything is you! Studies have shown that when you listen to your own voice, it has a far stronger impact on your subconscious thoughts and beliefs than when you listen to anyone else. That means every time you repeat “I’m not okay” or “I can’t get through this” you believe it! Use this power instead to strengthen your body. When you feel fear or uncertainty, place your hand on your heart and tell your body “I’m here. I feel your fear. It’s okay for you to feel this. I love you.” You will feel immediately lighter when you strengthen your connection with your body this way.
In the end there are only two things you can control: where you put your attention and what you do with your body. Depending on what you focus on, your body responds. Your cells are listening to your every thought, and your emotions directly impact your health. When you consciously use these tools, you win!
Your body absolutely does have the ability to flourish during these times of intense change, and to reside in joy and love unconditionally. It is up to you how much attention you put on what’s happening outside of you which you cannot control, and whether you put your attention onto what’s going on within you, where you absolutely are in charge, and which does make all the difference in your health.
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