Twin Cities Edition

Lissa Rankin on Moving from Fear to Freedom

Lissa Rankin wears many hats: physician, mystic, author, artist, speaker and blogger. What unites her many pursuits is a passion for helping people optimize their health and understand how science and spirituality converge toward that goal.

A former obstetrician and gynecologist, Rankin is the founder of the Whole Health Medicine Institute, in San Francisco, which trains doctors in mind-body-spirit medicine. She’s authored six books to date, including the bestseller Mind over Medicine, The Fear Cure and The Anatomy of a Calling. She lives in California’s Marin County and blogs at LissaRankin.com.

What common signs indicate that fear is affecting our health?

When people are sick, there is almost always an element of fear. Many of us have “ridden shotgun” at one time or another with a health diagnosis, and that’s scary, so even if it’s not predisposing the illness itself, it can stimulate fear. Studies from institutions such as the Harvard School of Public Health and Carnegie Mellon University have discovered strong correlations between fear, stress and anxiety and health issues. When fear is predisposing us to illness, addressing the root cause of the issue is preventive medicine.

Whether triggered by something trivial or real, fear activates the “fight-or-flight” stress response in the brain. The body has natural self-healing mechanisms, but these only operate when our nervous system is relaxed, so effectively dealing with fear is foundationally critical to wellness.

How can we distinguish between true and false fear?

True fear is an actual threat to physical survival, like being approached by someone wielding a gun. However, most fear is generated by a story we make up in our minds. Our wild imaginations, the source of beautiful creativity, can be a destructive force, too, as we envision all kinds of worst-case scenarios, most of which will not come true.

Modern-day humans average more than 50 stress responses a day, which indicates we’re way off track in our relationship to fear. The mind constantly strategizes how to get what it wants and avoid what it doesn’t. A spiritual practice can help interrupt the “monkey mind” constantly ruminating on what could go wrong.

Paying attention to fear around practical issues like not being able to pay bills is helpful because it can keep us from being reckless, such as buying an unneeded luxury item although our mortgage payment looms. But letting false fear prevent us from following a dream, ending an unhealthy relationship or leaving a toxic job can predispose us to illness. Fear is the emotional equivalent of pain in the body. Attend to it when it arises; try to understand what it is telling you and see what’s in need of healing.

What are some effective ways to defang false fear?

Ultimately, we need to come into the right relationship with uncertainty; it’s the gateway to possibility. People often think that fear provides protection, when our intuition, which typically requires a relaxed state of mind, is a far more effective protector. There have been studies about doctors following their hunches to a patient’s underlying condition, leading to life-saving diagnoses.

How can we cultivate courage, curiosity and resilience, rather than feed our fears?

Cultivating a spiritual practice such as mindfulness helps put a pause between a feeling like fear and the reaction that might ensue. You learn to sit with uncomfortable feelings and recognize the story you are spinning in your mind about what’s happening. It also means letting go of expectations when things don’t go as planned.

Fear is my cue to activate a practice of surrender; to turn something over to the universe. I will also ask for help to calm my heart and let go of attachments. For me, this life-changing practice means I now trust the mystery more than my mind. I trust the unknown more than science and logic. The latter may be useful tools when doing taxes or a research paper, but I don’t trust them to be the best navigation system of my life or help me in a crisis.

Psychology isn’t enough to address fear, which comes with the territory if you think that we are just flesh robots programmed to maximize self-interest, alone in a hostile universe. Once you learn to see the possibilities and hand over the wheel to a greater, benign organizing intelligence, something unwinds in the nervous system and we relax into the wonder of mystery.


Connect with freelance writer April Thompson at AprilWrites.com.


This article appears in the November 2017 issue of Natural Awakenings.

Edit ModuleShow Tags

More from Natural Awakenings

Letter from the Publisher

As we head into autumn with the changing leaves, Mother Nature starting her resting phase and school activities beginning to find their rhythm, it’s time to focus on our personal needs. So many of us don’t think twice about spending any amount of money and time to meet the needs of our children, spouse or friends, yet we won’t do the same when it comes to our own well-being.

Be Heard and Make a Difference

As young adults and teens, we need to start taking action on issues where we want to see something changed. We can’t just look at these issues and say someone else will do it. We were given a voice and now, as teens, need to use it, especially on issues that affect us more than they affect adults such as school shootings.

Three Simple Ways to Get Started With Social Marketing

As small business owners, operators or managers, our lives involve non-stop, on-the-job training. Sometimes it seems we’re running fast just to stand still and sadly lose sight of the amazing learning opportunities granted to us each day (You may be thinking there aren’t enough hours in the day; I don’t have time to think about the lesson learned; this pile of work isn’t going to do itself, so please don’t give me one more thing to do.)

A Game Changer: Respecting All

If you haven’t yet tried the 30-day challenge of only speaking positively for 30 days, here are the details: You are challenged to only speak (and think, in the advanced version) positively 24 hours a day for 30 days in a row—no snide comments, no yucky yammering—only pure positivity. If you mess up, you have to start your 30-day count all over again.

Mastel’s Health Foods Celebrating 50 Years of Service

John Mastel founded Mastel’s Health Foods in 1968 after having suffered the effects of an experimental antibiotic he received while attending college. “I spent 54 days in the hospital with stomach issues brought on from the treatment I received,” states Mastel. “Back then no one was talking about gut health or the need for probiotics.” It wasn’t until he read an article in Prevention magazine that he started to see hope in his situation.

Add your comment: