Board Certified Periodontist

66 – About Fear

Hi there. You are listening to the Perio Patient Podcast, a podcast for my patients and anyone else who cares to listen. My name is Dr. Ben Young, and I am a periodontist practicing in San Antonio, Texas. The title of this podcast is: “About Fear.”

Welcome if this is your first time listening. Otherwise, welcome back.
Every week, as I work along, I find myself thinking about you, whoever you may be, listening to my podcast because I want to make sure that helps you in basically two ways. First, I believe that we all need to be reminded about what may be important that isn’t all that urgent. In other words its easy to forget the mundane things – like flossing or visiting the dentist or dental hygienist as recommended based on our
personal dental situation – when life in general becomes hectic. And the second way I hope this podcast helps you is on the level of life itself. So expect my topics to be wide ranging but also that they are centered on what you and I came together to deal with in the first place – teeth and gums.

Which brings up today’s topic – fear. Everyone in dentistry, as you no doubt can imagine, is well acquainted with how fear operates because we see it in the eyes and actions of patient’s everyday. We see it in the elevated pulses and blood pressures obtained on people who appear for the most part to be calm and relaxed. We see it in the protective behaviors fearful people use for self-protection. I’m thinking about a particular anger response. People who are mad for no particular reason and who express their dislike for being in the office, are posturing due to fear. Knowing this enables me to help them through these fear responses to obtain the care they need.

But I also understand fear at a more personal level. People who say they are not ever afraid are simply in denial. I can say this with confidence because fear is a normal response to certain kinds of events – like sudden surprises. I will let you imagine for yourself the last time you were surprised. It might have been
while driving and suddenly finding someone turning in front of you or stopping quickly causing you to react. It might have been a prank where someone or something popped out from behind a door or out of a box. You might have screamed – whatever your response, it was the result of your nervous system
firing with the dumping of a lot of stimulatory chemicals into your blood stream. You heart started pounding, your breathing became more rapid and possibly more shallow, and your vision along with probably all your other sensory organs, like hearing and touch, shut off. Moving in coordinated ways, unless you have been trained to deal with sudden threats goes out the window. People jump, they flail
their arms, and yes, sometimes wet their pants.

But there is a longer – more chronic form of fear we also all should be familiar with – and this one affects our body, in similar ways as the fight and flight response of the sudden crisis event – but at a lower level.

This one we do not share with the rest of the animal kingdom. This one is the result of having the ability to think beyond our present circumstances, instincts and drives – like hunger and fatigue – and imagine threats. We can remember events and then our minds work to makes sense of them and we can dream of future possibilities and our minds work to either avoid them if they are threatening or move toward them if they seem attractive to us. This is the fear of possible injury or even embarrassment – and much of what drives us instinctively is to avoid anything that increases our level of fear.

But the management of fear isn’t that easy, is it? It isn’t a switch you just turn on or off – and sometimes just because we think one thing that is supposed to reduce our fear or at least not increase it – we find that fear is still with us – and often this results in us berating ourselves for being such wimps.

So, what can we do to help manage fear – both in ourselves and then in others?
I’m glad you asked.

First, acknowledge fear as a part of life. Allow yourself to sit and feel fear when there is nothing happening.
I’m not saying get quiet and ask yourself what is it that bothers you. That’s another question. I’m saying look for the feeling of fear itself. Begin to understand how your body feels it.

Fear is like pain in that it is subjective.

Two patients can say they have sensitive teeth, for example, but their responses to standard tests can be completely different from one another.

In other words, when someone tells me they are having pain, it is of no help inserting how I myself would feel pain of a similar type – or what a study of one hundred other subjects reporting they had experienced something similar.

Part of the reason for this I think is because our response ultimately to both pain and fear is a combination of two things. First, our physical make up –our physiology – how healthy or unhealthy it happens to be. And second, how we interpret everything at the higher – more human, less animal — mental/emotional/spiritual level.

What this means is that we interpret our own feelings in ways others cannot – even if they have advanced degrees even in the areas like pain management, psychiatry, clinical psychology or any other discipline.
I say this as a warning to myself as one in healthcare because it can seem so logical to think I know a lot about others based on my own life’s experiences and education. In fact, I have to say that I have found this idea to be more false than true. Sure, you and I have a few things in common, but what we think and how we feel has a lot to do with our personal journeys to this point in time. Face it, you could grow up in
the same family, have the same parents in common and still be completely different from your siblings in
more ways than can be listed. Even identical twins aren’t that identical.
So, let me repeat, get to know how you feel fear.
Second recommendation is to understand the relationship between fear and action. When we are
overwhelmed with fear, our ability to think is disrupted, however, the more we move into uncomfortable
situations – toward the fear, not away from it, not letting fear conquer us or hold us back, the more we can learn to operate within the fear environment.
A good example of this I have experienced personally is in the area of musical performance. Initially, as a beginner on the clarinet, the great fear is squeaking. This is the result of a change in the air moving through the mouthpiece and past the vibrating reed made bamboo or synthetic material. The change, when afraid, is to lose your connection with the mouthpiece with your lips and teeth. This connection is called the embrasure. The embrasure for woodwind players is the seal around the mouthpiece formed by the muscles of your lips. At first, the muscles aren’t strong and they aren’t trained – and the net result of this is that the air going into the mouthpiece has – let’s say – a few hiccups. The air is unsteady – and unsteady air has ways of disturbing the vibration of the reed. Also, as you play an instrument into higher octaves, it is natural at first to squeeze the mouthpiece or bite down and this also results in a lot of earsplitting unintentional sounds. Add this to a band or orchestra setting and you can have some really embarrassing public moments. Been there done that.

But over time and with practice we learn to manage the fear. It doesn’t disappear – there always are performance butterflies – which many professional performers will tell you – actually improve the performance — because a low level of fear increases awareness and actually focuses the brain on the moment at hand. Also, over time the basic aspects of performance are practiced out to the point where they are no longer the problem – which then allows the musician to concentrate on other aspects of the performance.
So, again – first become comfortable and aware with how fear feels and second move into it in a practiced way. Understand that fear just is, and to succeed, you will have to deal with it and get past it.

Also, here is another interesting fear finding. When you begin to perform – to do the task or tasks you need to do – fear often disappears. You enter into a zone of sorts where you actually discover a peace within the emotional storms.
And my third recommendation, when it comes to fear, is to pray. And by pray, I am saying think a certain way – in a certain direction – not allowing your thoughts to settle within yourself and become circular. In other words, worry is the opposite of praying because worrying is focusing on the fear, the obstacle, the weakness, all the reasons failure is inevitable. Prayer is focusing the mind, or the mind’s imaginative ability, out and away from the fear toward promises and beliefs. What beliefs? Well, this is where practicing comes in – just like practicing an instrument – we need to practice and rehearse trust in the God of our own level of understanding – and also trusting that this activity will draw us closer to finding out more about the one we are praying to. Much of my learning to play an instrument involved me trusting my teacher and that he knew what he was talking about. It’s the same with spiritual disciplines as well.

Which leads me to a Cliff Note explanation of how I came to believe in God. Before the age of 18 I would have told you I was an atheist. At that time in my life I wasn’t interested even in knowing whether God existed or not. It did not seem relevant or worth exploring. But events unfolded – which are too long for this podcast – that resulted in me being enrolled in a Bible study by my mother – against my will – with a young college student from Samoa. Every week he would come to our house and give us – my mother, younger brother, younger sister and me — a Bible study that basically involved working through a series of questions and looking up Bible verses as the answers. But that didn’t convert me. I put up with it to be polite – and because I loved my mother. Still do incase you were wondering – which I’m sure you weren’t.
No, what changed was a question that popped into my mind at the beginning of one of these studies where we were all supposed to be praying. The question linked back to something I had said a few weeks before while alone driving my family’s station wagon – still an exciting thing to be able to do at that time of life – when I didn’t pay for the gas or upkeep on the vehicle. I remember thinking to myself, “Isn’t it cool that no one can read my mind?” I can think anything I want and it’s my little secret.”
So back to bowing and pretending to be taking prayer seriously, the thought that popped into my head was, “What if there is someone listening to my prayers?”
Then I remembered my earlier thoughts and became very afraid – because the answer might be that I have never been alone and unseen – that someone is very much aware of who I am and what I think – and everything else about my life I would have preferred to keep a secret. From that point on I begin to take the Bible study much more seriously.
So, once again, because you are listening to this and I don’t expect you are taking notes, let’s review the ways already mentioned to deal with fear.

First – embrace it. Try to understand it within yourself – how do you respond?
Second – Practice acting in the midst of fear and see how the fear is better controlled. Also, I guess we can look at the alternative to this one. Don’t act in the midst of fear and see the fear dominate you and lock your future down. There are many who will not go out of their homes for fear of increasing fear. And yes, there is a level where when fear dominates a life, it then becomes an illness that then requires treatment in order to get well once again.
And Third recommendation – Pray. Focus your mind outward, which has, as at least one benefit, reducing the time you are spending focusing inward and feeding the fear fire.
Now, recommendation four – and this goes back to things I have spoken about in earlier podcasts – work on healthy relationships. There is strength in numbers – assuming we are talking about being around people who lift others up and don’t tear others down.

Sometimes what helps us the most is encouragement. Notice the word encouragement includes within it the word courage. Encouragement helps build our courage to face our fears and love others courageously. And also, as I have said previously, there are forces at play in our world right now that either intentionally or unintentionally are working to separate us from those around us and to instill fear in people we don’t know – and most of us don’t know that many people personally in the first place. Even if we know a thousand people – in a world of billions, that makes most people strangers to us. Locking down, wearing masks, afraid of a virus killing us when the statistics tell us otherwise – and I know people die from this virus – but they die from many other ailments as well. Besides, I would rather be surrounded by people I have grown to trust should I become sick rather than fear them all.
So those are my four recommendations. Face your fears to understand. Act in spite of your fears every day. Pray as part of your daily routine. And enjoy the company of others where you can talk and listen freely. All of these help us manage fear – and when we manage our own fears, then our friends and loved ones are blessed in our presence – whether they understand the reason or not – because we all need people in our lives who are encouragers. So become like the people we want others to be for us. Now let me leave you with something to chew on – something you have no doubt heard throughout your life – because it is classic literature, as well as being the most famous psalm in the Bible.
I’m talking about the 23 Psalm.

Let me show you how King David – the guy who fought Goliath as a kid using a sling and a few rocks – worked on his own inward life and how he dealt with his own fears. David, before he was king, was a shepherd – the youngest in his large family – which meant he spent many nights alone, outside, in the dark, protecting his family’s herd of sheep.
And if you know anything about sheep, you know that they are not very bright and they scare easily.

So let me read you the six verses of Psalm 23 and let’s see how David places himself before God as a frightened sheep. I am reading the King James version, which is the most familiar to most of us.

23 The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.

2  He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
3  He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
4  Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
5  Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
6  Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever. Now let’s break it down.
23 The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. [So on the one hand, David admits his weakness, his fears, and in the same breath, states that he is protected because his shepherd happens to be God Almighty].
2  He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. [Fearful animals and people rev their engines, they are ready to bolt, to hide or to fight back in a burst of panic – but look at what the Good Shepherd forces his flock to do – to lie down in green pastures – to rest – and to drink water where it is peaceful. Sheep will not drink where the water is not still – that’s how fearful they are].
3  He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. [the Good Shepherd wants us healthy, whole and standing for good things – like loving and caring for one another – and he links who he is – his name – with who he wants us to be – good people. Why? Think about it. People who don’t know God, tend to not like him – in the same way people who don’t go to dentists and dental hygienists fear them – because they don’t know them. As dentists and hygienists treat patients like you well, it enhances their names and reputations, in the community, they get likes and good comments on search engines, for example, which then reduces fear in potential fearful patients who don’t know them personally. They go because they are accepting at first the words and recommendations of others – enough at least at first to take a chance, in spite of their fears, and go for an appointment. God operates the same way. He wants us to be advertisements for his goodness, because we reflect who he is by how we live our lives – and when asked why we are the way we are, we give him a good referral. The bottom line is one big reason for us to live good lives is for his name’s sake.

4  Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death [even in the scariest of times], I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; [notice that David is no longer talking about God, he is talking to him – he is saying I don’t fear because you, God, are with me] thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. [there is a lot we can say about rods and staffs, but suffice it to say that God protects us by disciplining or coaching us into becoming stronger and braver than we are (if you have ever played sports and had a coach – you get this). He also protects us by protecting us at our enemy’s expense.
5  Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies [he makes our lives good, not by taking away danger, but in the middle of it]: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. [These are descriptions of blessings – primarily on the inside – removing fear and replacing this emotion with peace, joy, love is huge – it causes
people to glow from the inside out – which explains the picture of becoming lights to a dark world.
6  Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever. [I will leave this last verse for you to figure out for yourself].

That’s it. Let me know what you think.
This has been both the Perio Patient Podcast and I am still Dr. Ben Young. If you like this podcast, please like and feel free to share. Also, if you have questions or comments, don’t hesitate to drop me a line.

Thanks for listening. We’ll talk again soon. Bye for now.