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Where does your fear sit?
Is it in your chest, your gut, your toes?

The brain generates the emotion that we know as fear, yet it is often experienced physiologically in areas often far removed from the brain itself.

My fear is visceral. It’s in my gut: a deep nagging uncomfortable sensation that I recognise instantly for what it is.
My gut shapes my experience of fear.
For some people this bodily sensation not only alerts them to their fear, it can become paralysing in its effect, as we desperately try to block it out or eradicate it in order to feel OK again.

What if you could turn off that gut reaction?
What difference would it make to your experience of fear or anxiety?
Could it in fact help you to manage that fear better, by lessening its impact?

In between the gut and the brain is the vagus nerve that connects as a bidirectional information conduit between the two. Researchers form Zurich sought to see what would happen if they severed the connections that took information from the gut to the brain in rats.What they found was a lower rate of innate fear, but a longer response to conditioned fear.

What does this mean? It is hoped that by manipulating the physiological side of fear and anxiety; taking away the butterflies, the stomach churning knot and sweaty palms, it is hoped that these findings and additional research may help those who suffer from debilitating conditions such as PTSD.
Already, vagus nerve stimulation therapy is being used to treat some cases of depression and epilepsy.

These findings also go some way to help us understand and trust our “gut instinct” when we sense something or somebody isn’t quite right and why we experience fear the way we do.

Klarer M, Arnold M, Günther L, Winter C, Langhans W, Meyer U: Gut Vagal Afferents Differentially Modulate Innate Anxiety and Learned Fear. The Journal of Neuroscience, May 21, 2014. DOI: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0252-14.2014

Dr Jenny Brockis

Dr Jenny Brockis is a medical practitioner and internationally board-certified lifestyle medicine physician, workplace health and wellbeing consultant, podcaster, keynote speaker and best-selling author. Her new book 'Thriving Mind: How to Cultivate a Good Life' (Wiley) is available online and at all good bookstores.

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