Despite the rapidity with which our technology-driven world changes, our bodies and the hormones which do the communicating between cells for us are moving at a relative snail’s pace.
In short-speak, our bodies still react as if we were hunter-gatherers, daily battling the elements and woolly mammals in order to survive.
In those long-ago days, when danger came it was quick, unexpected and absolutely deadly. The body needed to gear up to fight or run. In order for this to happen, hormones like cortisol were released into the body, triggering a cascade of physiological responses.
In flight or fight mode, blood is pushed to the extremities to prepare muscles for combat or escape. This means digestion gets shut down, in part because digesting food actually requires a lot of energy. Blood pressure rises to get the heart pumping. Senses are heightened as adrenaline kicks in.
This state of being works wonderfully if it only triggers in those moments when a saber tooth wants you for dinner. Once you escape that near death experience, you go back to gathering, your heartbeat slows, your blood returns to a normal balance so things like digestion can continue. In short, the reactions of your caveman body are just right for the world in which you live.
Unfortunately, we modern-day humans still live with our caveman biology. Even though we face few, if any, actually life-threatening events in a week, our bodies have not learned the difference between an animal attack and the challenges of morning traffic or a hectic calendar.
The results of our caveman response to a modern world leaves us in a state of chronic flight or fight. Our cortisol levels stay elevated, along with our blood pressure. Our shoulders and limbs tighten from being tensed for action. Our digestion and internal organs suffer as they try to exist in an environment of decreased blood flow.
No wonder some say that stress is the main cause of most of our modern-day ailments.
But we don’t have to let worry and stress dominate our biology. We can do many things to combat stress and its subsequent health consequences.
- Live mindfully, which means slowing down enough that you actually think about your responses to the world around you. Ask yourself, what am I afraid will happen? Is the worse-case scenario really so horrible?
- Take breaks during your day to breathe deeply. A breath that expands your belly when you breathe in, like a balloon, and then deflates on the exhale activates your lymphatic system, which tells the body to get the blood back to the belly. Practice by breathing in for five counts, holding for three counts, and breathing out for eight counts.
- Drink plenty of water and avoid stimulants like caffeine.
- Eat a well-balanced diet. Fried and processed foods, including sugar, upend your omega-3 to omega-6 balance, which can lead to a multitude of problems, starting from the cells up.
- Exercise. Even if it’s just three, ten-minute walks a day, moving helps combat our tendency to stress. It’s good for your body, too!
We humans don’t have to live in a state of chronic worry, but it will take some conscious effort on our parts in order to overcome our ancient biology. The better we see daily challenges in their true perspective, the less likely we will trigger the unhealthy fight or flight response.
Betsy’s Note: This article is for educational purposes only. It is not intended to diagnose, treat, prevent or cure any disease. Consult your healthcare provider.