How Our Ancient Brains Have Let Us Down

To paraphrase Alain de Botton, while humans have achieved remarkable advancements related to technology and life-span, we aren’t much evolved emotionally since we dwelt in caves. As a result, we are ill-equipped psychologically to deal with much of what is threatening us in the contemporary world. For example, long ago we developed a powerful fight or flight response, that instantly co-opts our endocrine, nervous, cardio-vascular, muscular and other systems. This process works brilliantly when activated to avoid a predator. Unfortunately, it’s activation is wholly ineffective and usually detrimental when the “threat” is related to a relationship, work conflict, financial stress, or global pandemic. Unfortunately, our otherwise very capable brains often can’t tell the difference.

It is a cruel truth that there simply is no comparable neuro-endocrine response designed for typical modern “threats” and stress. In fact, the part of the brain that we really need for most of today’s problems, the frontal cortex, actually gets subordinated by the fight or flight response from our older, mid-brain, and our powers of analysis, prediction, problem solving, and restraint become anywhere from compromised to totally “off-line.” In effect, for most contemporary threats, the fight or flight response is a false alarm, which in the absence of an actual need to run or go to battle, manifests as anxiety, which perpetuates the cycle, and can even lead to a state of hyperstimulation that does not return to normal.

For many of us, our vulnerability to fight or flight false alarms is related to previous, unresolved trauma, neglect, violence, etc. The most important thing for getting through the current morass, as well as supporting brains that did not evolve for this life, may be our willingness to explore in our own pasts what we’ve spent a lifetime avoiding. The most important skill we can probably learn is to re-regulate ourselves once our amygdala has gone bonkers and the false alarms are ringing.

For more information on how to address modern problems with an ancient brain, click here.

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