It’s raw. It’s visceral. It’s a backseat driver, desperately trying to shift you from control. It’s the bully. It’s the annoying neighbor that silently judges. It’s the space-occupying villain. It’s the darkness. It’s the desperation for perfection. It’s the voice that tells you everyone is watching. Even the eyes within the painting are judging you. It’s the taste of bile in the back of your throat. It’s the unsteadiness that makes your legs feel incapable. It’s the quick heart beat that makes you feel like you’re about to fight a tiger, but the tiger never comes.
Throughout evolution, our bodies created this amazing defense mechanism called “fight or flight.” We adapted over time to be able to use our sympathetic nervous system to our advantage. Thousands of years ago, our distant relatives faced extreme challenges related to daily living. A tiger chasing after them is not a farfetched idea. In a life or death scenario, our body engages the sympathetic nervous system which allows us to face the threat. It is created by releasing a massive amount of adrenaline (the holy shit hormone). This hormone allows us to react with the intensity needed to counterattack the threat. When you read a story about mom lifting the minivan off of her trapped child, it’s because of that hefty surge of adrenaline. Pretty dang cool, right? In the appropriate situation, this physical response to a threat is protective and helpful. Unfortunately, the nervous system can get slightly wonky and decide to have this “fight or flight” response at an inappropriate time.
Today’s society does not have to worry about being eaten alive by a tiger. Hopefully. The reasons people are stressed have also evolved over time. We used to be stressed about trying to make a fire, kill dinner, and survive through the winter. Today, we are stressed about our job, family dynamic, social media presence, friendships, role strain, health, etc. I believe this is why anxiety disorders have been on the rise in the last 20 years. We figured out how to survive, so now we spend time perseverating on things that are not critical. We have this innate system to have healthy anxiety, but unfortunately it has manifested into an adrenal system crisis.
I wonder if life was simpler when you only had to worry about whether or not you could build a fire.