Friday, January 10, 2014

Flight or Fight

I recently started reading a book called “Loneliness”. I highly recommend the book to everyone who is interested in understanding human behavior. When I mentioned the title to people, they get concerned about the title. Take my word for it, this book is an excellent scientific and social memoir of human evolution.
Now to the story of why I started reading this book. Moving to Seattle was a personal challenge of mine to see if I can survive and thrive in completely new place. Minneapolis is a place very close to my heart for all the people that I met there, my friends, mentors, colleagues and bosses. There was a certain quality to all of them which was greatly endearing and loving. Life could not be more comfortable than that. I got to a point where I wanted to test myself in new circumstances and see if I can survive. Survive, I did but somewhere down the line something felt missing – the personal connection. I missed my friends and my mentors. That is where my research started, why is that we feel upset when the personal connection is missing?
My research led me to how evolution has trained our systems. It not just answered my question on personal connection but it also answered questions that I had about fear and anxiety in general. At the core of it all is our survival instinct. The survival instinct is a very sophisticated mechanism which has matured over 1000s of years of human evolution. Our systems are trained to ensure the success of best genomes for the human race. Rejection, failure, desertion were not circumstances that ensured survival of the human in our hunter gather societies. As a result our body developed hormonal reactions that send signals to our brain any time any of these situations arose. That is why a heart break really hurts because the minute your brain sense a rejection, it assumes that there is a threat to your survival. The brain then shuts down all the peripheral functions, quickens the heart rate to help you with “Flight or Fight” to save yourself. The slight glitch is that evolution has not really caught up with the modern day society. Heart breaks, fight with a boss, loss of friends are not situations that really threaten your survival and as result your body does not really need to kick off its fight and flight syndrome anytime these situations happen.
So what is the problem with triggering the “fight and flight” syndrome every single time. The problem is wear and tear. Another name that we give this syndrome these days is “Stress”. Every time your body undergoes stress there are physical changes that occur and they cause wear and tear in the body. In order to recover your body needs time to rest. Similar to how when you are trying to build muscles, you need a rest day for them to rebuild. In the modern day there is really no time to rest and recover. A good night’s sleep is also at premium for some people these days.
Understanding the method behind the madness has helped me figure out my stresses in a much clearer way. Personal connection is very important for all of us as it ensured a safety net for people in the hunter gather societies, the more people you knew and the more people you could the trust, the more your chances of survival where. As a result till today, we yearn for friends and families that we genuinely connect with on a personal basis. Telephonic or Inter web relationships fail to satisfy that need.
The same is true for stresses at work. Rejection or lack of approval could mean dire things for our ancestors. Have you ever seen lonely bears at national parks, they usually are injured and as a result they are thrown out of the herd as they jeopardize everyone else’s life. For the lonely bear from then on it is just counting days to its death. So lack of approval at work triggers immediate triggers in our systems.

Most spiritual books mention that the day you can get out of the crutches of your survival instinct is the day you will be enlightened. After my tiny bit of research it is becoming more and more clear to me that what they say is true. If all the stresses were out of our lives, what would be left is just pure bliss. 

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