Day 1772: The fight, flight, or freeze response of cave dwellers can ruin modern life

Yesterday morning, when I was fighting to fly to work on time, I froze when I saw this:

The fight, flight or freeze response of cave dwellers can ruin modern life.

Before I read that article by Kate Murphy in the New York Times, I knew  it would echo many things I’ve been telling my patients for years, including:

  • fear and its companion — the fight, flight or freeze response — can save us from danger,
  • however, the level of fear we experience today is  based on the realities of the distant past — the danger-filled lives of our  cave-dwelling ancestors who lived under constant threat of  invading tribes and wild animals,  and
  • that level of fear  interferes with modern life.

Here’s a quote from that article:

“Change has occurred so rapidly for our species that now we are equipped with brains that are super sensitive to threat but also super capable of planning, thinking, forecasting and looking ahead,” said Ahmad Hariri, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke University. “So we essentially drive ourselves nuts worrying about things because we have too much time and don’t have many real threats on our survival, so fear gets expressed in these really strange, maladaptive ways.”

I don’t want to drive ourselves nuts by spending too much time on that article here, but I recommend you read the whole thing.  And I do want to include a few more quotes from the article before another flight into photography.

  • Consciously activating the more measured, analytical part of your brain is the key to controlling runaway fear and anxiety.
  • Arresting an overactive amygdala requires first realizing and then admitting you’re feeling uneasy and scared.
  • “The more you try to suppress fear, either by ignoring it or doing something else to displace it, the more you will actually experience it.”
  • The amygdala is less apt to freak out if you are reminded that you are loved or could be loved. For example, seeing images of people with frightened expressions is usually a huge trigger for the amygdala, but that response is greatly diminished when subjects are first shown pictures of people being cared for or hugged.

  • Just as fear can be contagious, so can courage, caring and calm.

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How did those photos affect your modern life?

Before you take flight from this post, I will fight to express my main reason for taking that last photo — it reminded me of the song “Our Time”  from Merrily We Roll Along:

To make this our time rather than the time of cave dwellers, let’s do our best to focus on courage, caring, and calm.

Modern thanks to all who helped me create today’s post and — of course! — to YOU.

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Categories: personal growth, photojournalism | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 24 Comments

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24 thoughts on “Day 1772: The fight, flight, or freeze response of cave dwellers can ruin modern life

  1. When I see the word amygdala, I’m afraid there’s still so much in this world I don’t know anything at all about, Ann.

  2. A daily visit to this site is my reminder that I am cared for. Thanks, Ann.

  3. Having the luxury and burden of free time…and what it does to our brain. This all makes sense to me. Looking back to childhood, the struggles were real…it was about having food, shelter, jobs, pretty much survival. Sometimes, I miss those days.

  4. Very interesting post! I always say, the more we change, the more we really stay the same. It makes sense to me. When I am having a really good day where everything seems to be going right, I get this foreboding feeling that something bad is going to happen, like a letter from the IRS will be in the mail, or one of the kids has a challenging event – something like that! I create discomfort for myself. Maybe I am just keeping myself on my toes, being ever vigilant.

  5. Thank you.Useful and timely.

  6. A friend once asked me what I thought when I looked at a child, and I said so much about the way we interact with the world has changed just in our lifetime that I wonder what children will accomplish. The invention of the printing press allowed for greater communication and advances in knowledge and technology. We still have yet to see what children brought up with the internet can and will accomplish. My friend said, “That’s exactly the answer I expected from you,” which made me feel known and loved.
    Our mammal brain evolved under very different circumstances, which can be cause for fear, but our ability to adapt is also reason for hope.

  7. The cats have it right. They follow well the phrase; “Lord, give me the courage to change the things I can, accept those that I can’t, and grant me the wisdom to know the difference.”
    -Alan

  8. I don’t like change but I know change is normal, when scared I wouldn’t fight maybe I would freeze but really run and hide would often be the best thing to do.

  9. The photos of the cats make me think they have the right idea! They don’t appear to be stressed by time-bound, often self-imposed deadlines! 🙂 What a tremendous and timely article. I seem hard-wired to respond to everything as though it could jump out and get me. All change for me is hard. And then when navigated, you’d think the whole thing was my idea in the first place. LOL! You’ve given me plenty to think about tonight, Ann. I enjoy that. 🙂

  10. Like Debra, I was thinking those cats don’t even have an amygdala. Hmmm. It’s always nice to get an explanation for things, isn’t it, and a way to adapt.

  11. Thanks for sharing this Ann. It’s very grounding to know what we are dealing with every day. I’m off to activate my rest and digest response for a while❣️

  12. Pingback: Day 1791: Disturbing | The Year(s) of Living Non-Judgmentally

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