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Fear, Anger, and Guilt Will Eat You Alive

Updated: Aug 30, 2019


Our bodies and lives cannot thrive on fear, anger, and guilt. Yet we all know people who actually want to be swallowed by these emotions: spending their time posting about the latest political disasters and tragedies, or searching for videos of hidden camera sting operations to binge. Could it be that these emotions provide excitement for otherwise stable daily lives? First World reality is that actual survival is statistically secured, and sometimes politicians, news media, and social networks fill a void.


How does this relate to physical health? Enter "fight or flight," and "rest and digest"- the sympathetic and para-sympathetic nervous systems respectively. Most of what our body does can be classified as a function of one of these two nervous systems.

  • Rest and Digest functions are the keystone to healing. This nervous system is how I make my living. Any damage our body sustains during our day-to-day lives, or traumatic events is repaired and processed by Rest and Digest. When you sleep, eat or heal, you do so because of this nervous system, and without it a paper cut would kill the strongest of us.

  • Fight or Flight functions keep us alive against immediate threats, like predators or acts of nature. They also keep us alert even when there is no present threat. You could say Fight or Flight's responsibility is to mitigate and prevent the damage caused by an active life. When time slows down as an accident unfolds, that's your Fight or Flight kicking in. Without this system, humanity would never have made it out of the bottom of the food chain.

At any point in time you are on a spectrum between one system, and the other. In other words, these two systems work together to get us to the end of our legendary lives, and both are always turned on. When you sleep, you're mostly using Rest and Digest, but Fight or Flight stays on in case you hear a sound in the bushes, or from the closet. While you are playing a sport, your body is monitoring how hard you push: telling you when you've gone too far via pain or fatigue. What matters is where on the spectrum of these two systems you are currently or usually operating.


Now, U.S. Americans are not known for their Rest and Digest culture. The current picture of obesity and chronic illness does not bode well for our societal views on health and happiness. Let's be clear: "healthy" is not any number on a piece of paper- it is a reflection of quality not quantity.


Fear, anger, and guilt are in direct opposition to long-term health. At best, these are emotions suited for individual survival (fear, and anger) or group survival (guilt), but only in the short-term! These emotions belong to Fight or Flight. If a grizzly bear showed up in your bathroom while you had a sinus infection, you could safely bet that your nose and head would "clear up" instantly- not because the infection disappeared, but because your body prioritizes which threat to manage. Your body is capable of letting one threat fester to save the whole from a larger threat. This is why fear, anger and guilt are so dangerous to our long-term health. Tense shoulders lead to stiff neck, then eventually headache, then insomnia, so on, and etc.; the combinations are endless.


There are antidotes:

  • "Trust" frees us to do what we are good at, knowing that someone or something else will take care of the many other matters we care about in life. When everyone does what they are good at, accomplishing a task is like rolling a log down a hill.

  • "Compassion" allows us to enjoy, or at least accept the presence of another person, even if they don't meet the standards we set for ourselves. There is so much to learn from the people we don't immediately agree or get along with.

  • "Forgiveness" brings everyone back to the present moment, dislodging them from being stuck in the past. Even after having spent years working on it, I still harbor resentments towards myself for mistakes I've made over a decade ago! What am I missing out on by holding on?

First reactions might be to imagine scenarios where trust goes too far and stops serving our best interests. Compassion is often boasted while simultaneously loathing some exceptionally irritating political groups or individuals. No one wants to be wrong, so no one asks for forgiveness and then we think... that it can't be given. Yes it can.


In such a "win" centered society, surrender appears weak and is unappreciated, but it is a skill that the healthiest and happiest people must cultivate. Reading about this is only the beginning, and you don't have to do it all alone. Don't neglect your maintenance and don't miss out on the benefits of professional care.


We all deserve better than to live under the constant grip of fear, anger, and guilt. These emotions are directly opposed to health and happiness. What will you do to begin your flight of healing?

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