The term “fight or flight”, also known as “acute stress response”, describes a mechanism in the body that enables humans and animals to mobilize a lot of energy rapidly, in order to cope with immediate threats to their survival. Basically, every time we are faced with a very stressful situation, and our well-being is at risk, our body responds by releasing cortisol, a hormone that shuts down unnecessary functions, like reproduction and the immune system, allowing the body to instead direct all energies toward dealing with the stress at hand.
This makes us very alert. Very focused. Ready to fight. Ready to go into survival mode. This is a natural reaction that is meant to empower us in guarding ourselves. In protecting that which is sacred – our life; our well-being.
The “fight or flight” response is, in a sense, an in-built safety feature, meant to boost our capacity to cope with a threat. Meant to boost our ability to find a solution and survive. We are equipped to sense danger, and to defend ourselves. Stress is our signal that something is wrong, and cortisol is the support that we receive from our bodies in dealing with the stressors. In our most natural state, we are safe, comfortable, relaxed, at peace, calm. If something threatens to take our well-being away, anatomically, and biologically, we are built to stand up and protect it. We are built to desire safety. Stability. To desire the ability to truly live.
How exactly does the “fight or flight” response affect our body?
Our blood pressure goes up in the presence of elevated cortisol levels and our blood circulation is altered. Our body directs blood away from the areas of the body that are not essential, and instead directs them at the areas that are most crucial to our survival. When we are in danger, this is meant to help with physical or logical tasks alike.
We also experience a spike in our glucose levels. In case of an extreme challenge, this allows us to move and think faster.
Cortisol also shuts down many of our bodily functions at times of danger. This is a means to direct energy away from non-essential areas, and into the functions that are directly involved in the act of survival. It inhibits the uptake of amino acids into the muscle cells, it inhibits bone formation and it decreases calcium absorption in the intestines. Cortisol can partially shut down our immune system, by interfering with T-cell production and function. Cortisol also interferes with the normal production of thyroid hormones, and it disrupts the reproductive system. It increases stomach acid production and deranges our metabolism. This is all meant to help in the short term, but it can quickly become problematic, if the cortisol continues to stay elevated for long periods of time.
We live in a chronic state of “fight or flight”. Why?
Is it a coincidence that we are now more chronically ill than we have ever been?
Is it just by chance that so many humans are diabetic, experience chronic high blood pressure, poor circulation, weak immune systems, weak muscles and bones, poor thyroid function, chronic reproductive issues (including infertility), acid reflux, constant digestive problems and constant inflammation? Does it just so happen that all these “fight or flight” symptoms are chronically present in our every day life? Could it be that we are all in constant survival mode, and our bodies are completely overwhelmed? Could it be that stress is making us sick, more so than anything else?
And if so, why are we so chronically stressed? Why are we always in fighting mode?
In my own observations, I find that humans have three core needs:
– existential: food, clothes, water, shelter, good health
– emotional: a healthy capacity to feel, to reason, to imagine, to self-express
– social: meaningful connections, healthy relationships, a sense of community, of belonging, of authentic sharing
In order for us to live a healthy, well-balanced life, we require all three needs to be met. These are fundamental requirements for our well-being, and for our safety. If any of them are threatened in any way, we go into survival mode to protect them.
It’s important to understand that survival for humans is not just about food, shelter, and safety. Survival, in its most authentic form is about joy, abundance, meaning, connection, creativity, health. This is true survival, and it is not about just staying alive, but about thriving; about prospering, on all levels. We are not meant to just get by; we are meant to be part of communities, to have a safe place to be and evolve together. We are meant to have a stable means to provide for ourselves, while at the same time, having the time and energy to invest in pursuing meaning. In pursuing self-growth. In pursuing emotional well-being.
There is a reason why even the rich, who have all the security in the world in terms of shelter, food, clothes, are still suffering from extreme stress, from chronic disease. They themselves are still in a “fight or flight mode”. Why? Perhaps because their other needs (emotional and social) are still not being met?
These three needs are very interconnected and symbiotic in their relationship. When they are in balance and in-sync with each other, we experience harmony, safety, peace. When we have a healthy sense of self, and we are emotionally balanced, we can easily form healthy relationships. When we can create healthy bonds, we can also create very strong communities, which in turn allow us to cooperate in our efforts to provide food, shelter, warmth, and to remain in good health. When we work together in a harmonious way, it is very difficult to experience scarcity. When all our needs are simultaneously met, it is very rare that we experience stress or the “fight or flight” response. Threats are only occasional, and when they do happen, we can usually quickly neutralize them, and bounce back.
This is what true living should be like.
Why are we so stressed then? Why are we lacking in so many of our basic needs?
If we study history, we discover patterns. The answer lies in these patterns.
When we are most connected to the land, to nature, when we are part of self-sustaining communities and we nurture healthy relationships, a healthy sense of wonder, of desire to learn, to grow, to creatively express, we are most relaxed and safe. This is when we experience the least amount of stress, and can, for the most part live natural lives full of meaning.
When we are most disconnected from nature though, when the sense of family and community is gone, when we no longer know how to provide our own food, water, and shelter, and no longer pursue joy, meaning, security, growth, we are most stressed and ill. This is when we go into full survival mode.
Stress is our compass
By analyzing how stressed we are, we can understand how connected or disconnected we are from our natural needs. When we remove stress, we get closer to natural living. When we add stress, we move further away from all that is natural.
The more unnatural our life becomes, the more overwhelmed we become.
And this is exactly what is happening in this modern age. We are overwhelmed by our inability to work with nature, in order to provide our existential needs. We rely instead on the industrial machine and the system to provide things for us. We are disconnected from our families, and we lack any sense of community. We are haunted by solitude, by alienation. We rely instead on an automated lifeless government to replace the sense of true community – the sense that we belong to something; the feeling of family – mommy and daddy. We have no sense of security and safety, and we live in constant fear. We instead turn to the police for protection. We are more unstable mentally and emotionally than ever. We lost so much of our desire to question, to dream, to learn. To find meaning. Instead we rely on a system, that is in and of itself broken and empty, to teach us what ‘healthy’ means. To define happiness for us. Our freedom to find answers on our own is nearly gone.
This becomes a very different kind of survival; an artificial, industrialized, ruthless survival, that places each one of us within a constant state of stress. Of trauma. We are so insecure, so uncomfortable and so depressed, it’s quite clear that our current way of life isn’t working. Something just isn’t right.
Naturally, when we reach a point of such stress, we stop and we assess what is wrong. We recognize that we can’t continue to harm ourselves, and we make changes. We actively try to return to a more natural state of being. We actively try to correct the problem, and move back toward a more natural existence.
Instead, in our society, the opposite seems to be happening. The more stressed and overwhelmed we become, the more pressured we are to adapt and keep on going, no matter how hard it gets. We are programmed to not ask questions. To not reflect on the state of things. To not complain. To not break down. To not admit that we are in pain. To not resist. To not ask for help.
We forget that we can say no. We forget that stress is not mandatory. We forget that instead of adjusting our lives to better handle stress, we can simply say no to it altogether. Rather than constantly trying to fix the symptoms of stress (such as depression, loneliness, exhaustion, illness), we can choose to address the very core problem – the artificial system that is ignoring all our needs.
Fear traps us in the “fight or flight” loop
Why do we detach from our own stress? Why do we detach from our own pain? Why have we forgotten our innate ability to defend our right to live?
Why have we chosen to shut down in the face of trauma, instead of working through it?
Why have we allowed our lives to degrade to such an extent without intervening?
Why are we going forward with an existence that we dislike?
Why are we choosing to become more and more robotic, more and more disassociated from the suffering that exists here? Why are we choosing to become empty automatons, rather than allowing ourselves to truly feel? Why are we choosing imprisonment over freedom?
Why don’t we stand up?
When I ask these questions, the one answer I always come back to is fear.
We have allowed the system to gain so much control over our lives, that the mere thought of going against it and deconstructing it, scares us. We are afraid to rely on ourselves, to take self-responsibility, and to learn to deal with things ourselves. It is much easier when we can turn to somebody else to solve our problems for us.
We are so disconnected from nature, from the land, from animals, plants, we are so disconnected from our ability to provide our own shelter and safety, that we no longer trust our own skills to keep us safe. In turn, we allow somebody else authority over our own lives, in exchange for an illusory sense of comfort. We are quite literally afraid that freedom would kill us, so we settle for imprisonment instead.
We are also afraid of one another. Afraid to work together. To rely on each other. The system has excelled at alienating us, and keeping us in a constant state of conflict. Of separation.
And because we have resigned ourselves to all this fear, we begin to dislike ourselves. To dislike our lives. This then leads to self-destruction, self-hate, devolution. And eventually, self-annihilation.
Of course, there is also the option that we might figure out how to merge the human body with technology, become more robotic in nature, and escape our pain and self-hate by means of transhumanism. That would be a step even further away from what is natural, and further into the disconnect. Further into detachment. Further into escapism.
I personally don’t think that the transhumanist wave is moving fast enough for our society to go into that direction. We are much closer to the potential of self-destruction, than we are to a spectacular technological leap.
What can we do?
– We need to first look at our lives and discover how much stress we carry. Discover how much of our day is spent in a state of “fight or flight”. Discover how much pain we are truly in, from a place of full self-honesty.
– At the same time, we need connect to who we are in a state of non-pain. We need to remember how unnatural it is to spend an entire life in a state of stress. In a state of kill or be killed. This is what awakens our passion to live free and meaningful lives.
– Then we can look at what is causing our stress; we can understand the source of our pain here. We can study the areas in our life where we are unable to meet our own needs and truly learn what has to be changed. Understand how healing can occur.
– Next, we need to make a choice. Do we choose freedom, and that which is natural, or do we choose the safety of this system?
– And last, if we choose freedom, we need to delve into a deep process of self-healing. We take responsibility over our physical, mental, emotional and social well-being. We understand how crucial it is to stand up for what is sacred. To defend the natural rhythm of life. To come together and rely on each other. We actively change our lives, and help others to also move into the process of self-healing. We remember how powerful we truly are!
I hope in my coming articles in this section to go into much further depth into what is required to fully heal ourselves and our journeys.
Thank you for reading this far!