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Advanced Fight or Flight

We have all heard of Fight or Flight. This is the brains system to avoid danger. It comes from caveman times where we could be eaten by lions and tigers. We still could be, but we live in our comfortable houses. For most of the world this is relatively safe. We may have to contend with a few house spiders but not too much danger.

If a mugger approaches us or we believe we hear a noise in the night, our brains suddenly boots into its Fight or Flight system. But can this be more advanced than immediate danger that is right in front of you? Have we adapted this mechanism for our modern-day society? A lot of modern-day threats are more psychological threats or threats to our way of life compared to the threat of imminent death.

Here’s a scenario: you’re walking down the street to your bus stop. You wait for your bus, get on it, and then sit down in the first available seat (that you feel comfortable with). You see your destination approaching and so you ring the bell. The bus starts to slow down and so you stand up, walk to the front of the bus and say thank you to the bus driver. You then proceed to get off the bus and you have reached your destination. Sounds like nothing went wrong doesn’t it?! Well let’s think about this for a moment…

You walk to your bus stop – OK hang on a second, did you pass anyone? Have you got your contactless card in your pocket? They didn’t steal money off you by using contactless technology, did they? To that end have you still got everything in your pockets? Mobile phone, wallet, house keys, change etc.

In that one tiny bit of the journey there could be countless threats. So how do we combat this? Have our brains adapted to modern day threats or are we still stuck in the times of lions and tigers, waiting for the roar of danger until our fight or flight kicks in?

It would be so much easier if I could just say “yep we have adapted.” But unfortunately, what is ever that easy? Especially when it comes to our brains.

To explore this, we also must understand the times we are currently in. So many people are suffering with anxiety due to our entire lives being online, the newspapers making things sound like everything is an imminent threat. If you have money, you’ll be worrying about the unpredictability of the job market or the randomness of today’s political climate. If you’re amazingly well off you may even be worrying about the stock market “what will happen if X, Y, and Z happens.” If you aren’t in these categories, well Unfortunately you may worry about the above and more. Whether you can pay your rent, if your benefits are going to leave you with so little money you can’t afford to buy your own food any more. This is just a tiny bit of modern-day anxiety. All the above is exacerbated by the use of mobile phones and emails and everything being at our fingertips. We can wake up in the morning and have several emails reminding us about overdue payments or news alerts. Is this truly a good way to wake up?

Why I bring up anxiety is because I think this can exponentially increase our modern-day fight or Flight.

Over the past several years I have suffered with anxiety and depression to, what I would class as, a pretty severe degree. This at times was exacerbated by circumstances within the workplace. It doesn’t mean that the workplace was bad but between my anxiety and times of boredom it created a whirlpool effect of emotions. This happened right up until the point my brain turned around and said “leave! Leave now!” So, I listened to my mind and left.

In hindsight, financially, this was a ridiculous and careless thing to do. However, mentally, I still feel it was the only option I had in front of me. If I hadn’t had left, I dread to think where I would have ended up. I’ve hit rock bottom before and, in all honesty, the way I felt then, I’m not sure I’d have had the strength to come back from it again.

This is an extreme example of what I would call “Advanced fight or Flight.” My mind knew all too well where I was mentally, and it made a choice the two options of staying or leaving.

Relationships are another scenario where advanced fight or Flight can happen. After a while of being in a relationship, you’ll no doubt come to a point where the newness of the relationship wears off. During this period, when you suffer with anxiety at least, you start feeling like the other person is distancing themselves from you. At this point, you start asking yourself if it’s truly what you want, if you truly love that person. Despite the answers to the above questions, your brain can make a choice of how to act, sometimes without you even being aware. You may start to push the other person away or you may become rather clingy. Again, I see this as your fight or Flight kicking in.

We all know, or have known, people that seem to thrive on chaos. Depending on your personality and your experiences in the past, you shall either choose to fight this chaos or run from it as quick as you can.

I see these three examples as a very good indication our most basic of instincts have adapted and shall continue to adapt to an ever-changing world.

We think that evolution takes a long time. But isn’t that just physical evolution? Look how modern-day generations have adapted to the use of technology. As our knowledge and openness expands, our minds shall change to try to cope with all these changes.

My question to anyone reading this is, do you believe advanced Fight or Flight has come about over time or do you think it has always been there, but we are only just beginning to see the capabilities of these more advanced functions?

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