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MBS Blog #23: Understanding and Overcoming Fear

It has become very clear to me over the last year or so that one of the biggest impediments to recovery from Mind Body syndrome (MBS) is fear.  It seems to be a part of the experience of so many people that it should be considered as a normal part of the MBS experience and therefore everyone will probably need to deal with fear at some point in their recovery.  In this blog, I will take a stab at identifying the sources of fear, the meaning of fear and offer some thoughts and methods on dealing with fear.

Where does fear come from?  We should recognize that fear is part of the normal experience of life.  We are born with a brain system that is built to protect us from danger and harm, i.e. to help us survive in a dangerous world where we may become stalked by a predator or endangered by one of our own species; another human being.  This system resides in the deeper parts of the brain (sometimes called the “reptilian brain”), it operates all of the time by constantly scanning the environment for danger, and it is clearly in the subconscious (or unconscious) part of the brain, i.e. we are not aware of its actions until after it has acted.  When we sense danger, the brain sends immediate signals from the amygdala (the emotional center of the brain) to the hypothalamus (where the autonomic nervous system resides) to cause some kind of action in our bodies.  Again, this occur without conscious awareness and our bodies are programmed to react to danger by activating the fight or flight reaction pathways.  After our body reacts (with muscle tension, gut or bladder tension, and many other reactions), we THEN become aware of the sensation of fear.  Interestingly, studies have shown that people who are paralyzed have lesser degrees of the sensation of fear (and other emotions).  Continue reading

MBS Blog #22: Confronting Fear Head On: Brad’s Story

Many people find that fear of not being able to recover from MBS and fear of pain are major factors preventing their recovery.  In order to address these issues, I offer the courageous story of Brad in his own words.  Following that (in the next blog), you will find my comments on dealing with fear and several methods that can help.

 

“In the late 1980s, I became totally crippled with back pain shortly after an incredibly stressful four-month period. I couldn’t do much besides lie around. I saw several doctors, who gave me a variety of diagnoses, and I realized they were just guessing, so I went to the library do some research. By chance (thank God!) I saw Dr. Sarno’s first book, Mind Over Back Pain, on the shelf. I took it out, and after reading it I knew that my pain had been caused by my recent psychological tensions. I also concluded that I had become literally phobic about many movements and decided that the only way to break the phobia was to challenge it with graduated exercise. So I began to exercise and lift weights.  However, I was very timid and therefore didn’t exercise as aggressively as I could have. Continue reading

Modern Medicine’s Blind Spot

#5—Modern Medicine’s Blind Spot

 

The rapidity of advances in medicine has been staggering over the past 50 years.  It has been amazing to see the proliferation of research that has helped us understand how individual cells work, how DNA is translated into proteins that recognize other cells, that repair damaged cells, that create new cells to fight infections, and that communicate with all the cells in the body.  We have learned a tremendous amount about how smoking, high cholesterol, and diabetes cause heart disease and about how cancer cells replicate and spread.  These advances have created new technologies and medications to fight heart disease, stroke, and cancer by looking at the minute details of cells and proteins.  This view of how medicine will advance is now universal; we will find the answers to how the body works and can be healed by looking at the individual areas where the disease is presumed to be.  This has worked well so far.

 

But the problem lies in applying this theory to disorders like Mind Body Syndrome (MBS).  In MBS, there is no tissue breakdown in the body, so by looking closer and closer at the “problem area”, we are actually missing the problem.  In this case, the problem is in the relationship between the mind and the body.  Phantom limb syndrome is a situation where real and severe pain can be caused by the connections between the mind and body, yet there is no “disease” in the area where the pain is felt (i.e. the missing arm or leg).  In people with back pain, if there is a fracture, an infection or a tumor, we are best served by applying the techniques of modern medicine; i.e. find the source of the pain in the painful area and treat it with medications or surgery or physical therapy.  However, for those with chronic back pain and no fracture, infection or tumor, trying to treat the source of the pain in the painful area can lead to more harm.  Why have back surgery for a problem in the nerve connections between the brain and body?  Actually, this has been tried in phantom limb syndrome.  They tried amputating the limb at a higher spot to try to decrease the pain, but this didn’t work.

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