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Mental Health in a Changing Uncertain World

How an inner default mode of bias towards survival fear drives our stress reaction


Stress is insidious and as survival tool for fight, flight or freeze, it has an impact on every one of the 50 trillion cells in our bodies. This reaction is essential to avoid immediate, physical danger, such as hitting the brakes to avoid an accident. However, stress is mostly triggered by our inner default mode of how we feel and think – worry, fearful, ruminating, angry. The body experiences stressful feelings as though they are physical dangers and the whole cascade of the stress reaction is triggered throughout our mind and body, all geared to stay and fight or run away. After many years of this incessant and unnecessary reaction, distress is the cause of all our chronic diseases and ailments, from mental to physical. It also robs our joy and sense of wellbeing.

Let’s now return to our cells, the functional core of our bodies. Every one of our cells is an intelligent tiny being.  These intelligent little life forms govern what goes on in our bodies. What we tend to forget, however, is that they are extremely obedient. Our cells listen to every word we say, every thought we think, and emotion we feel – and follow our instructions to a ‘T’.  

And that is why it is very important to manage fear by monitoring, through constant awareness, how we feel inside.  It is essential that we learn how to keep the heart, brain and mind healthy to support immune system and heart health, while curbing inflammation. The wonderful, hopeful fact is that we can change our stress reaction through various practical ways and daily deliberate relaxation practice, to develop calm centeredness and peace of mind, at will. It takes some practice, perseverance, and patience (the 3 P’s as I call it), but we can all learn to master our stress reaction through mental-emotional training. 

We all intuitively know how bad stress is for us and at the root of stress is fear.  Fear is destructive and has been around since just after we crawled out of the primordial soup!  It is therefore insidious and very difficult to overcome, because it has become an inlaid brain pattern  with a survival bias – deep inside the reptilian, instinctual part of our brains.  Fear has been established over many years and many generations.  We get this default setting from our genetics handed down from our ancestors.  It is time now for us to break this negative programming and take back control of the instructions we give our cells. The good news: every single one of us can learn how to do this!

Inner fitness with practical stress management and relaxation training for mindful mental wellbeing, using principles of neuroplasticity to rewire and reconnect to deeper values, are solutions we can use on a daily basis. We can choose to make new networks, because our brains are malleable. We can rewire for periods of pause, breathing, calmness and inner peace.

Always remember that we are free, whole sovereign souls embodied in a physical body whose initial programming is to be happy, whole (root word of health), joyful and free!  Fear is an impostor and here is a way to deal with it:

Become aware of, and feel this fear, sit with it, find where it is located in your body, and notice how it changes, like all emotions do if we pay attention to them. Don’t resist the feeling. Be with it, accepting and allowing, letting it wash through and out of you, and drop through the layers to reach, even for a moment, an awareness of a deep place inside yourself. A place of stillness, of quiet and peace, of unconditional love. Then ask, from within this space, what the right choices for you are. Believe it to be true, and be firm and sure. Then go into the world well harnessed with an inner bubble of golden protection, and you won’t allow those who believe the right way is to scare people into making fear based choices that are not in their own best interest, into your safe space. Choose from within the ways to enhance and restore your natural state: health and wholeness, living in joy and inner peace, doing what you love as a calling, rather than slogging away at a job – it’s all in the attitude, intention and mindset of how you go about your life’s comings and goings.

I know how airy-fairy this may sound to many of you.  Imagine the process that I, a medically trained left brain dominant professional, had to go through to accept this intangible truth!  I personally had to go through the motions to convince myself that an alternative but complementary approach to health and wellbeing was the route to balanced and exuberant happiness and wellness.

How do we find the necessary calm, creativity and focus to not only cope and adapt, but to thrive?

The following exercise is another starting place:

Breathe deeply to connect with this moment. Allow the breath to enter every cell, straighten your spine and be grateful for this life; feel the breath of life (light, love, chi, prana, life force) in your whole being, invigorating every single cell, and every one of the 50 trillion molecular geniuses that make up your physical form. Exhale all the fear and worries into a neutralising bubble. Focus in your mind, on what delights you, what makes you truly happy and joyful. Breathe in your surroundings, taste the air and the freshness of the day, notice the blessings and wonders of nature around you. A few moments of breath and sense awareness can make all the difference to your day.

Practice these two exercises every morning and evening, even if it’s only for 5 minutes twice a day. They will go a long way to alleviate that ominous feeling that we feel so often in our everyday modern lives and especially now, to send the correct happy messages to our obedient and hard-working little people (our cells).

Written by Dr Arien van der Merwe, medical doctor, holistic health counsellor and stress management consultant, specialist corporate health & wellness service provider and author of the book Stress Solutions, ‘Relax & Unwind’ relaxation CD as well as the books Health & Happiness, Finding the Stillpoint, Managing Inflammation and Herbal Remedies. Dr Arien teaches group and individual meditation and relaxation classes online and at Optimum Care, 426 Cliffendale Dr, Faerie Glen, Pretoria and The Green Healing Space, 16 Hope St (c/o Dirkie Uys St), Hermanus. Tel 0123622422 / 0671166111 / For more Immune Support and Stress tips, please visit

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