Fatigue is the No. 1 complaint in doctors’ offices these days. Whether we’re experiencing a lack of sleep, 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 according to Constance Grauds, a registered pharmacist, herbalist and shamanic healer, and coauthor of The Energy Prescription (Bantam, 2005), 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 learned about the effects of susto, or fear, while on a trip to 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 susto. Their observation changed the way Grauds looks at health.
“We all know from our own personal experience that fear makes our bodies, minds and energy contract,” she says. And, while fear is a natural response to stress, emotional shock, emergencies and danger, many of us aren’t able to shift out of it, so susto becomes chronic.
Even if our fears are small, they make us retreat and disconnect, says Grauds: “The shaman would say there is only one disease: the disease of disconnection. And fear is the ultimate dis-connector.”
Here’s her good news: There are simple things we can do to transform the chaos and depletion of the susto-driven existence into a more vibrant, happy, energy-filled life. And some are as easy as taking a deep breath.
Attitude is Everything
Exercise, good 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 says. 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 susto. She recommends a four-step process (see “Step by Step” sidebar) that helps us shift from the anxiety-ridden self to what she calls the “indigenous self,” a state of deep awareness of our connection to everything else. From there, she says, one can move toward a stronger, calmer, “sustainable self.”
Karen Olson has written about health for publications including Natural Home and Utne Reader, and for the Web site Self.com.