Fear of the Ebola virus is sweeping across North America.
People are dealing with the threats of the illness in different ways.
I want to share some research I have learned recently in the hope that it can bring greater understanding to this situation.
Fear is a natural body response when we feel our life may be in danger.
It can be our best friend to warn us to protect ourselves for survival.
Many people I know (let’s call them People A ) will be aware of the threat of Ebola and will dismiss any twinge of fear because their rational mind tells them there is actually no real threat to their lives at this moment.
But others I know (let’s call them People B) will hang on to the fear – cycling thoughts and feelings of all possible dangers over and over and over in their minds and bodies.
People A will tell them: “Stop this fear. You just need to trust in God – in your Higher Power. You have nothing to be afraid of.”
And People B will wonder: “What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I be like them, (People A) and have enough trust and faith that all will be well? I must be a terrible person to keep having this fear.”
Persons with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome) fit into this category – People B.
Persons who are called Empaths or Highly Sensitive Persons usually are People B.
I fit into the category of People B.
Even though I am a person of deep faith and worked in ministry with my husband for over 40 years, also becoming a pastor myself, I still could not stop the overwhelming fear from happening to me. At times it took over my life – with constant negative thoughts playing over and over again.
So finally, I’d had enough of this. There had to be a better way.
Thankfully I came upon the webinar series on trauma that NICABM (the National Institute for the Clinical Application of Behavioral Medicine) has been presenting the past several years. The latest research presented there gives amazing answers about the dilemma for People B’s reaction to fear.
It turns out, there is nothing “wrong” with us. There is nothing we can do to stop this feeling of fear from coming to us.
Our bodies are created in such a way that a cranial nerve, called the vagus nerve, signals our bodies to react in order to save us. There are three ways our bodies may deal with threats:
1) it will freeze
2) it will go into the fight or flight response mode
3) it will feel the fear and move into the executive, decision making part of our brain (the pre-frontal cortex) and make a decision that all is well, we are safe, we need not fear.
But what has happened for those in the People B group is that we have experienced some kind of trauma in our lives that keeps us stuck in the first two stages of fear response. This trauma may be experiences like war, life-threatening illness, rape, or things like emotional or physical abuse from parents, peers, or spouse. Yet, once this trauma pattern is set, we have no choice. Our bodies automatically stay in freeze, fight or flight mode. (Please see the research by Stephen Porges, PhD on the Polyvagal Theory for further information on this topic).
And further research in the area of epigenetics is now showing that persons with PTSD, ( the People B category), have a variation in one gene that appears to be a factor in how we can deal with trauma. A simple saliva test can show this trait.
I believe that much of the mass hysteria happening around the Ebola outbreak here in North America may be happening primarily to those who fit into the People B category. Furthermore, our daily news feed is keeping people in a state of fear with continual threats of climate change, terrorist threats, mass shootings, and virus epidemics. What we call “entertainment” in movies and tv has become saturated with acts of torture and extreme violence. We are programming our bodies for fear.
Fortunately there are many tools available to assist persons of trauma to overcome this cycle of fear. I am grateful that I have been able to heal from the traumas in my life and I would like to share what I have found helpful in future posts.
Please show patience and care to those who continue to struggle with the effects of trauma. Each one will find their own way and heal in their own time. It cannot be forced to happen. My hope is that there will be many discussions and much sharing about these new advances in the research of behavioral medicine. I hope that those who suffer the pains of traumatic fear will know it is not weakness or lack of faith, or anyone’s fault – – it is simply our bodies saying: “I care for you so much, I’m doing all I can to keep you safe.”