Did you ever watch Die Hard? (The first one in Nakatomi Tower.) Remember how the guy on the plane at the beginning told John to take his shoes off and make fists with his toes? There is a very valid and useful principle at work there.
Humans have only two responses to threat … fight or flight. But we prepare for them the same way … by lifting our heads (to hear and see better) and turning our feet out and up slightly (to prepare to fight or flee).
In primitive conditions, the threats come or they don’t come, we fight or flee and then it’s over. But in modern society, we experience various stressors that trigger this primitive response for hours at a time.
Tension headaches are from chronically keeping the head unnaturally elevated and taut with hyper-alertness. Less noticeable, but very much there, is the change in the way we hold our feet.
A fear of something like flying or dogs or whatever can have a very sensible point of origin. But at some point, it becomes a hindrance to a happy life. And our bodies have a feedback loop that we can use to break into this cycle and reprogram those primitive fears.
When you experience a stressful experience, your body institutes the fight or flight response. As long as the response continues, it feeds back to your brain that the danger is still imminent. However, if you consciously undo the fight/flight physical symptoms, this feeds back to your brain to tell you the problem is gone.
E.g., if you’re afraid of dogs and a dog appears, you raise your head, tense your neck and shoulders, arch and raise up slightly on your feet. BUT, if you deliberately relax your head and neck and PLANT your feet, you tell that part of the brain that’s producing the unwanted fear response that there is nothing to fear. The dog is still there, but the fear is gone. The more often you do this, the less of a fear response you get with each subsequent encounter.
This works! You can do it ANY TIME you notice you are holding your head, neck or feet in this way. A stressful thought can trigger it and I have a lot of those, so I do these exercises all the time. Here are a couple I like. You can modify to suit.
Tip your head from side to side to stretch out and relax the muscles in your neck. Roll your shoulders. Deep breathe.
Make fists with your toes. Roll your feet. Roll something (golf ball works well) under your soles. Deep breathe.
This final one is weird but it really works and you can do it sitting or standing: Tell your inner thighs to “talk” to the opposite walls. My niece learned this in yoga and shared it with me. My yoga teacher said to “drive” my arches (which are always too high because of my chronic tension) into the floor. It just made my feet hurt. A LOT.
What I realized when my niece told me to try the thighs and walls thing was the flight response is not just in the feet, but all the way up to the hips. There’s a slight, but definite turn out, raising and tensing to prepare for fighting or fleeing. Just pushing my arches down forced the rest of my foot into a painful position that was out of alignment with the rest of my legs.
It’s a small adjustment, but the talking to the wall thing is perfect. It moves the inner thighs SLIGHTLY inward, correcting the entire problem from hip to toes. If you do it while deep breathing (I like to say a prayer too), the relaxation it triggers is amazing. I am doing it as I sit here and type this.
Do these exercises whenever you think about the thing you fear or before, during and after experiencing something you fear. If you really want to conquer that fear, then take some time each day to DELIBERATELY think about your fear while doing the exercises. This will totally reprogram your brain!
If you want more info, I suggest documentaries I got from Netflix … The Brain Fitness Program explains the science behind changing your brain and This Emotional Life talks about how these principles are used to treat people with crippling emotional problems like phobias and depression. The latter has a big section on Disk Two that follows a girl who was terrified of flying but wanted badly to visit her family. She entered an intensive treatment program (3 days!) that had her on a flight with her therapist at the end!
I can speak personally to the success of this stuff. I went through a similar treatment when I was pregnant with high risk #3. I had seven amniocenteses without anesthetic of any kind. The nurses were more freaked out than I was. One of the people who took me to one of the appointments watched women coming out ahead of me, weeping and barely able to walk. I came out chatting and laughing. She thought I must not have had the procedure yet, but I was all done.
I did these exercises EVERY DAY, visualizing the needle going into my uterus while saying over and over, “It’s to help my baby.” After the procedures, I had a little soreness where the needle had gone in, but that’s all.