How to Break Free From Fear
A shamanic healer explains how fear drains our vitality — and how we can reclaim more energy.
By Karen Olson | Experience LifeDecember 7, 2020
Fatigue is a common complaint at doctors’ appointments these days. Whether we’re experiencing sleeplessness, anxiety, excessive stress, or a low-grade case of the blues, we usually try to treat these issues one at a time, often pharmaceutically.
But pharmacist, herbalist, and shamanic healer Constance Grauds, PhD, claims chronic stress, apathy, anxiety, insomnia, and depression — and a general lack of energy and vitality — are all symptoms of a deeper issue: fear. And there’s no pill for that.
Grauds, the coauthor of The Energy Prescription, learned about the effects of susto, or fear, while exploring the jungles of Peru in 1994, where she studied natural pharmaceuticals and began her 17-year apprenticeship with an Indigenous shamanic healer.
Noting that Western tourists seemed to have little energy — and believing that fear is what drains us — the Indigenous people Grauds met observed that perhaps our busy, stressful way of life has left us in a chronic state of fear. Their observation changed the way Grauds views health.
“We all know from our own personal experience that fear makes our bodies, minds, and energy contract,” she says. And while it’s a natural response to stress, emotional shock, emergencies, and danger, many of us aren’t able to shift out of fear, so it becomes a chronic condition.
Even if our fears are minor, they force us to retreat and disconnect. “The shaman would say there is only one disease: the disease of disconnection,” she explains. “And fear is the ultimate disconnector.”
But there are simple ways to transform the chaos and depletion of a fear-driven existence into a more vibrant, happy, energy-filled life. And some are as easy as taking a deep breath.
Attitude Is Everything
Exercise, proper nutrition, meditation, and spending time in nature are a few of the things we can do to feel more energized, says Grauds. But attitude is where it all begins.
“Many of us approach these healthy activities out of fear,” she notes. Nursing worries, such as I’m not thin enough! I’m afraid of getting sick!, puts us in a constricted, stressed-out state. As a result, on a cellular level, the body can’t absorb the full health benefits of our healthy practices.
To achieve better health and energy, Grauds asserts, we must release fear. She recommends a four-step process that helps us shift from the anxiety-ridden self to a state of deep awareness of our connection to everything else. From there, she says, we can move toward a stronger, calmer “sustainable self.”
Step by Step
Grauds recommends this four-step process for breaking free of fear and reclaiming our energy.
Stop. “Pay attention to what you’re feeling and observing. When you unplug from the energy-depleting treadmill of fear, you may notice an inner calmness.”
Check in with your body. Your body is constantly communicating its changing needs, but it’s easy to ignore that when you’re caught up in tasks and concerns. “If the body hasn’t had enough food, water, or sleep, it gets anxious. There’s no sense moving on to a healthful activity unless you’ve taken care of your body’s needs first.”
Relax your mind. “Sit outdoors, play good music, whatever works. Then try to observe your thoughts instead of being driven by them. Each time you calmly notice and release a thought or fear in your somatic [bodily] awareness, you seal a vital energy leak and deepen your connection to yourself.”
Plug into the web of life. “Being relaxed in body and mind allows you to connect with the world around you. This decreases fear and constriction and helps you receive energy in every cell of your body.”
Essential Sources to Reduce Fear and Boost Vitality
Poor breathing techniques block energy, Grauds says. Fearful breathing is often shallow and constricted. As a result, cells experience oxygen deprivation and send out panic signals that feel like discomfort, anxiety, dread, fatigue, or helplessness — contributing to more fear. A chronically low supply of oxygen also weakens the immune system and depresses circulation in the brain. It can also contribute to the onset of cancer and heart disease.
How to Access It: If you’re feeling anxious, take note of your breath. If it’s shallow, take several slow, deep breaths, filling your diaphragm, to nourish the organs, muscles, tissues, and cells with oxygen. Breathe through your nose instead of your mouth to oxygenate the brain.
Poor hydration blocks energy, Grauds notes. Chronic dehydration breaks down cell structure, impairs the flow of nutrients, causes free-radical damage and chronic fatigue, and disrupts the flow of hormones, enzymes, and neurotransmitters. It also creates “cell panic,” sending the body into water-emergency mode — siphoning water from eyes and joints and rerouting it to support vital organs.
How to Access It: Regularly replenish the water in your body. Sip about half your body weight in ounces of water daily at separate intervals, even if you aren’t thirsty. Waiting until you’re thirsty to drink means you’re already parched. After you drink caffeinated beverages (which dehydrate the body), exercise, or eat a lot of protein, you’ll need additional water.
Disconnecting from the life right outside our door blocks energy. Research has noted that hospital patients who get even a glimpse of nature through a window will heal faster than those who don’t. The energy we derive from our connection to the outdoors is also undermined when our environment is polluted or otherwise degraded, leading to toxic stress and illness.
How to Access It: Spend 10 minutes lying in the grass looking at the sky, taking a walk in a park, or visiting a body of water. The act of gardening is really helpful — as is placing a favorite potted plant in your office. Just listening to nature’s sounds can also be rejuvenating. Make a point of vacationing in deeper nature whenever possible.
Insufficient healthy contact with other human beings blocks energy. Multiple scientific studies have shown that the lack of relationships — a form of disconnection related to the fearful self — contributes to anxiety, depression, stress, cancer, heart disease, and substance abuse.
How to Access It: Spend time with people you enjoy and respect. Instead of accepting relationships brimming with fear-based qualities like possessiveness or insecurity, focus on developing sustainable, supportive connections based on kindness, presence, and love.
Focusing on only ourselves blocks energy, says Grauds. Giving time and energy to others releases fear and awakens the sustainable self.
How to Access It: Recognize that serving others has a positive biological and psychological effect on you. Experiment with committing random (or more deliberate) acts of kindness at every opportunity.
This originally appeared as “Reclaim Your Energy” in the December 2020 print issue of Experience Life.
Karen Olson is a Minneapolis-based writer and editor.