My next book The Fear Cure: Cultivating Courage As Medicine For The Body, Mind & Soul comes out February 24! What inspired me to write The Fear Cure? After writing Mind Over Medicine, I had a post-publishing epiphany. I realized that it's all well and good to teach the 6 Steps to Healing Yourself, to invite people to do the deep transformational work that makes the body ripe for miracles and facilitates “spontaneous” remissions. But even if people are intuitive enough to tune into what their bodies need in order to heal, and even if they’re wise enough to write The Prescription for themselves, way too often, fear gets in the way. You may know what needs to change in your life, but if you’re not courageous enough to act upon your inner guidance, you’re likely to stay sick—and stuck.
That’s when I realized (with a gulp) that I needed to write a book about fear and courage.
(You can preorder it here.)
A lot of people think of fear as a painful, disruptive emotion, and they may be aware of how fear is holding them back in their personal or professional lives. But few people, including physicians, are aware that fear predisposes you to illness and interrupts the healing process. In The Fear Cure, I share scientific data proving that fear and disease are linked and that fear can out-picture as heart disease, cancer, autoimmune diseases, chronic pain syndromes, and even the common cold.
But fear doesn’t just make you sick. It limits your ability to fully step into your soul’s purpose in what poet Mary Oliver calls “this one wild and precious life.” Perhaps even more importantly, it keeps us stuck in a cultural world view that will destroy our planet—and us along with it—if we don't WAKE UP.
In The Fear Cure, I share what I call the "Four Fearful Assumptions," beliefs we have adopted that contribute to our fear-mongering culture and lead us to make choices based on a scarcity mentality, and these choices not sabotage your efforts to be happy, healthy, and thriving; these choices harm us all.
I just returned from two weeks in Peru, where my friend Dennis and I trekked up to 16,000 feet in the Andes and stayed in a small village with the people of the Q’eros as part of my research for an upcoming book Sacred Medicine. What I gleaned from the trip was not what I expected. I didn’t come home with a “10 Things I Learned From the Shamans of Peru” list, though perhaps that will come in time. What I gained was something far more profound and much more difficult to translate into words.
I found it almost laughably ironic that I am about to teach a free teleclass with my friend and mentor Martha Beck called “An Invitation To Peace.” (Register here to receive a copy of the recording.) This idea was born of a conversation between Martha and I, when we were sensing into the busyness and frenetic energy of modern life, noting the social isolation, reading the collective feelings of disconnection, anxiety, and depression that plague our culture, and dreaming into being a mass awakening of consciousness and infusion of healing peace. Martha and I could sense that, on some other plane, in some cosmic dimension, this collective peace had already been achieved, and we wanted to help people remember what already belongs to us, the peace we can experience when we return to the true home of our spiritual essence. This was our intention, and when Martha and I felt into the meditative peace we wanted to create on this teleclass, we both dropped in to a sort of trance that felt very deep and connected and effortless and yummy.
And then I went to visit Q’eros, and I recognized instantly that the sense of peace Martha and I were dreaming into being is already RIGHT THERE in this village in the Andes. I could feel it the minute I stepped off the horse that deposited me into the center of the quiet village. What was it I was sensing? Where did this vibration of pure peace originate from, and why did it feel simultaneously so familiar and so foreign? What could we learn from them, and how could we implement it in a way that might bring this kind of peace to the people of our culture? I just kept thinking of the movie When Harry Met Sally, when filmmaker Rob Reiner’s mother looks at Sally having a fake orgasm in the restaurant and says, “I’ll have what she’s having.” Whatever these people of the Q’eros were having, I wanted more . . .
If you have a conscientious doctor, you’ve probably been asked important health questions such as:
Are you eating a mostly vegetable based diet?
Are you avoiding sugar and limiting glucose-spiking carbohydrates like white pasta and bread?
Are you choosing organic?
Are you avoiding habits that can harm your health, such as cigarette smoking, excessive alcohol intake, and drinking too much caffeine?
Are you exercising regularly?
Do you get enough sleep?
If your doctor is particularly hip, you may have also been asked about your stress levels and what you’re doing to keep your stress under control. But is your doctor helping you understand what stress really is? You may think it’s all about how long your “to do” list is, but you may not realize what stress is to your body.
What Is Stress?
As I wrote about in Mind Over Medicine: Scientific Proof That You Can Heal Yourself, as far as your nervous system is concerned, stress is anything that triggers the amygdala in your primordial limbic system to activate the “fight-or-flight” stress response. And whenever this happens, your body’s natural self-repair mechanisms- the ones that help prevent heart disease, fight cancer, ward off infection, and assist in anti-aging- get flipped off. As far as your body’s health is concerned, thoughts, beliefs, and feelings that trigger the stress response may damage your health more than a poor diet, avoiding exercise, bad habits, and sleep deprivation.
But the good news is that the opposite is also true! Because your thoughts, beliefs, and feelings are at least partially under your control, you have the power to switch off your body’s stress responses and return the nervous system to the health-inducing relaxation response that activates the body’s natural self repair.
So which questions should your doctor be asking? Which ones should you be asking yourself? Check out the following questions which assess your “whole health” and which all have been scientifically proven to affect your health and longevity.
How many times have you heard variations on this conversation?
Person A: How’s it going?
Person B: I’m insanely busy. You know, the usual.
Person A: Yeah, me too. I’m scheduling into 2015 already.
Person B: I get it. Haven’t taken a real vacation in over a year.
Person A: Well, gotta count our blessings for being busy, right?
Person B: Amen.
It seems to me that we wear busyness like a badge of honor. I’m busy, therefore I’m important and valuable, therefore I’m worthy. And if I’m not busy, forget it. I don’t matter.
Recently, I hired Anne Davin to help me run my business, and because she’s much kinder to my schedule than I am, I find myself with a lot more free time than I’ve had in decades. Anne reins me in so I don’t bulldoze full steam ahead into exciting new projects that, while thrilling and fulfilling, will invariably wind up over committing and depleting me and overworking and depleting my staff. So lately, I have a lot of days on my calendar labeled “Succulent Space Day,” which basically means I’m free to do…whatever.
Because it looks to the outside world like I achieve a lot, people assume I’m insanely busy. But the reality is that, because I have such a great support team, both in my professional life and my personal life, I have a lot of down time, and this down time leaves me admittedly uncomfortable. In September, my whole month was blocked for a PBS station tour that got postponed until December (check listings for my public television special here). So when that tour got postponed, I had loads of free time on my calendar. So what did I do? I filled up the time by writing a 124,000 word book that I started and finished in seven weeks.
I guess you could say I’m more than a little uncomfortable with down time.
The Addiction of Busyness
In Daring Greatly, Brené Brown writes about numbing behaviors that we use as armor against vulnerability. And lest you think numbing doesn’t apply to you because you’re not hooked on cocaine or alcohol, she clarifies by saying, “One of the most universal numbing strategies is what I call crazy-busy. I often say that when they start having twelve-step meetings for busy-aholics, they’ll need to rent out football stadiums. We are a culture of people who’ve bought into the idea that if we stay busy enough, the truth of our lives won’t catch up with us.”
While we shame people who are addicted to drugs and alcohol, somehow, as a culture, we’ve normalized- even praised- busyness addiction. But are we really doing ourselves any favors by staying so busy?
Because I suddenly have more down time than I’ve ever had in my adult life, I find myself faced with the time to reflect upon my life. And facing my life isn’t always so pretty.
While I was in Fargo, North Dakota delivering my third TEDx talk (you can watch my other two here and here, I facilitated a community conversation about health care with Dr. Susan Mathison, founder of Catalyst Medical Center, who is also one of the doctors in my Whole Health Medicine Institute training program. The brunch was filled with doctors, nurses, energy healers, chiropractors, and empowered patients, and many of them have beefs against each other. You could feel the tension in the room, but you could also feel the capacity for love, for connection, for a long overdue bridge.
In the middle of the event, I had a massive epiphany (yet another in a week filled with painful but necessary epiphanies that are helping me refine my message and get clear on my role in healing health care.)
Here’s what I realized.
Doctors Are Traumatized
As doctors, we are traumatized by our training, the limitations of the health care system, and the very nature of what it means to be a doctor- to be on the front line of a lot of suffering- death, disease, disability, despair. We’ve had to come to work sick, we’ve skipped our postpartum leave and left our babies, we’ve had bloody scalpels thrown at us by physician professors who curse at us, and we’ve stayed awake to help others in 72 hour shifts. We’ve witnessed the deaths of children, dismemberment, and patients who die when we did everything we could to save them. We’ve gone through a hazing worse than any fraternity and similar to what soldiers experience. Yet people expect soldiers to have PTSD, but not doctors.
Having gone through all this, as doctors, it’s easy to get frustrated with the entitlement of patients and the disrespect of alternative health care providers who dismiss the often life-saving work we do, who don’t appreciate the sacrifices we make in order to do this life-saving work. Doctors feel unappreciated, devalued, and disenfranchised by a fractured system that has robbed them of much of the joy of their work, and that only amplifies the trauma.
Yet, as doctors, we tend to normalize the trauma. Every doctor we know has been through the fire, so we just think it’s an unavoidable part of the job. We think it’s our job to just buck up and keep going, not realizing that by failing to acknowledge the trauma and recover from it, by shutting down and closing our hearts, we are losing the very part of us that makes us good doctors.
Some doctors have done a great deal of difficult personal growth work to heal from the trauma of our profession. But most doctors are blind to the fact that they have experienced profound trauma. Those doctors don’t even realize they may be perpetuating more trauma because of their own unhealed trauma.
Nurses And Other Health Care Providers Are Traumatized
The nurses, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, midwives, and other health care providers who report to doctors are often traumatized by the doctors, who are so exhausted and traumatized and overworked that those who help them care for patients often bear the brunt of their misplaced anger. Psychologists call it “sublimation,” a defense mechanism whereby you suppress a socially inappropriate impulse and replace it with a substitute you deem to be more socially acceptable. (Your boss yells at you, and you’re not allowed to yell back, so you come home and kick the dog.)
But nurses are not dogs paid to get kicked by traumatized doctors who haven’t healed themselves. Nurses and physician extenders are healers in their own right, and when it comes to the art of true healing, they often practice it better than doctors.
Alternative Medicine Practitioners Are Traumatized