Real or Imagined: Your Body Doesn’t Know the Difference?

Pamela Jenkins

Have you ever watched a movie and became angry, fearful, sad or even cried? Of course, we all have! It happens all the time because movies are great at tapping into our inner world of beliefs and emotions. Science has shown us that what we perceive through the senses have a profound influence on our bodies. Something that you may have heard of called “Fight or Flight” has a tremendous effect over our lives. When we perceive some danger or threat, whether it is real or imagined, our bodies physically react by preparing us to go into survival mode. It is human nature to preserve the self.

Imagine if you see a grizzly bear while walking in the woods one day. Your immediate reaction will likely throw your brain and body into survival mode and all kinds of bodily processes will activate. Science tells us that the limbic system, primarily something called the amygdala, is activated. Someone who is merely shown the pictures of fearful faces of other people will have this part of the brain activated. In other words, observing someone that is fearful can cause a fearful reaction in you as well, even if it’s only in the brain.

In the case of the grizzly bear, it is obviously beneficial to act against the threat of your life, whether by becoming physically still or running away. You may have heard of cases whereby small fragile people gain incredible human strength to lift cars or other heavy objects to save someone’s life. This is primarily because of the massive rush of adrenaline that is released within the body. Your body has natural built in chemical responses for a reason. If we didn’t go into survival mode, we may die, therefore you can see how this can be a lifesaving gift.

As we can see, we all have been affected emotionally from the observance of others whether in real life situations or in movies. Now let’s focus on the emotion of fear regarding phobias. Phobias are extremely common and can be hard to deal with in life, although the fear is not based on reality. We know that people who have a phobia of spiders will react emotionally when they see a spider, even if it is fake but they believe it to be real. Interestingly, it makes no difference whether the thing feared is real or just perceived to be real. Clearly, we all know that fear is very powerful and has the ability to protect as well as paralyze us. Just as it can be lifesaving, it can also cause some serious problems throughout our lives.

Let’s examine a person who has grown up with a history of trauma within their family of origin. Trauma could be anything from the death of a loved one, physical and/or emotional abuse or neglect, sexual abuse, substance abuse, etc. Trauma is either experienced because it directly happened to you or experienced through witnessing other people affected by it. Children, still within the stages of physical and emotional development, who experience trauma can develop certain patterns of thinking based on that experience. This is precisely the reason why many people who have had past traumatic experiences seem to stay in a mental cycle of “Fight or Flight,” sometimes even specifically referred to as panic attacks. It is like living with that grizzly bear every single day and just learning to cope with it because they don’t know what else to do. Science even tells us that it not only affects the mental processes but also the bodily processes even at the cellular level. The state of a person’s mind can change their body by working through the Central Nervous System, the Endocrine System and even the Immune System.

So does this mean that a person who has experienced childhood trauma is damaged mentally, emotionally and physically for life? Absolutely Not! Psychological and behavioral therapies, medicine, exercise and nutrition, yoga, essential oils, etc. have all been shown to aide in the healing of the mind and body. Even people who meditate and pray have had positive results with healing trauma, although science is just beginning to take notice.

As stated previously, the state of mind changes the state of the body. Therefore, if the mind has the power to affect our bodies in a negative way, it also has the power to affect us positively. It works both ways and that is great news!

For example, laughter has been shown to release feel good chemicals like endorphins which can strengthen the immune system and decrease stress hormones.  You probably have heard the saying “Laughter is the best medicine!” There are actual “Laughter Camps” being held all over the world. In India for example, some prison guards and policeman are sent to these camps just to laugh in order to promote their health and well being. The laughter camps may look foolish and bizarre but they are proving helpful by reducing the negative effects brought on by highly stressful jobs. You may ask “how does my body benefit from forced or fake laughter?” Well it happens just like the real vs. imagined fear response, your body doesn’t know the difference!