We have all experienced the power of fear, whether it be watching a thriller on TV or walking into a dark basement or attic when you were a kid. That fear has been shown to not only paralyze your nerves and muscles—“scared stiff”—but it may also change the ground you walk on!
That’s right, fear can be transferred into the ground, noticeably changing the soil chemistry and the microbes in that soil.1 There are plenty of studies linking stress and fear to an alteration of human gut bacteria, resulting in emotional and behavioral responses.5 But, can the emotion of fear change the composition of the soil below your feet?
One study measured the effect that a predator attacking prey had on the soil. They measured the soil composition both when the prey was eaten and when it was spared.
Many studies show a dramatic shift in soil chemistry and soil microbe populations beneath the dead and eaten prey, but one study measured how even the fear of being eaten changed the soil.1
The effects were called “consumptive” when the prey was eaten and “non-consumptive” when the prey was spared.
In this study, there was no difference in soil changes between the consumptive and non-consumptive cases, suggesting that the fear of being eaten had as powerful an effect on soil chemistry and microbial populations as did being eaten. This study found that just the fear of predation changed the soil’s CO2, nitrogen, and microbe composition.1
Studies linking the impact of emotion on gut bacteria support the Ayurvedic dictate that what we see, feel, and hear we become. This helps explain how human thought can impact the environment and how the environment can impact our thoughts.
For example, consider all the studies on how being in nature, called “forest bathing” in Japan, delivers numerous mental, emotional, and physical health benefits.6
I have also written about studies that link gestures of love, kindness, and caring to powerful physiological, even genetic expressions, while negative gestures show either no change or a negative genetic or hormonal response.7-10 Read more about this here.
Genes Are Everywhere and They Talk
Communication between Mother Nature and human nature seems to be a regular occurrence on the most subtle levels of life: our DNA. Emerging science suggests that plant microbes can transfer genetic material to your gut microbes.2
In another study, plant bacterial genetic information (such as from our food) was found to influence how microbes function once inside of the body—either with negative or positive effects.3
Finally, when microbes from nature, i.e. from soil, water, or plants, transfer genetic material to our digestive tract microbes, that genetic material is then transferred into the human genome. This transference of genetic information from plant bacteria to gut bacteria to the human genome seems to be a way of warning the body of genetic changes or mutations that are occurring in nature (which could be harmful to the body down the road).
We could call it “genetic awareness,” a form of preparation and prevention.4 These studies suggest that the genetic expressions regulating our body, mind, and spirit are highly impacted by the genes in our gut, the food we eat, and our ever changing environment.
The Take Away: We all have an emotional footprint, which is a constant conversation between us and our environment. If just the emotion of fear can alter the ground we walk on, just imagine what that fear, stress, anxiety, and worry can do to the bacteria in our bodies that govern just about every physiological function in our body including our thoughts, behaviors, and emotions.
Once again, we see the need to be careful what stress we expose ourselves to. Reducing exposure to violence, fear, stress, and overstimulation is an Ayurvedic mandate that science is only now beginning to understand.