Fear is about a lot more than consciously being afraid. It’s not just phobias or the expectation of being harmed. While fear can be as extreme as paranoia, it can also be as natural as anxiety over being late for an appointment. For some, it is the fear of loss or failure. It can be concern about the future, low self-esteem, shame, or the judgment of others. It can also be insecurity, doubts, or a simple lack of motivation.
Thoughts are the most commonly recognized results of fight-or-flight triggers, and they come in a variety of ways. They may be overwhelming, subtle, or even subconscious, like low self-esteem or judgment of the world around us. Negative thinking, fear, and daydreaming are all common results of triggers. Problem-solving is survival, but too much of it becomes debilitating. Overthinking doesn’t help us as much as it hurts us, hence the term ‘monkey mind.’ So, it is vital that we remember even if the thoughts don’t seem intrusive, the fight-or-flight response beneath each is the same.
Another area where we commonly recognize the effects of a negative trigger is through the emotional reactions we experience. The part of our brain that manages fight-or-flight triggers also houses our emotional memories, so triggered states tend to elicit overly emotional behavior. When triggered, we might be reactive or extremely sensitive. We may feel anger, sadness, and fear, or it might also result in feeling insignificant, weak, and alone. We might feel tired and vulnerable, or even something as subtle as righteous indignation. Of course, our personal experiences will vary, but they all have one common thread. They are the result of perceived threats.
If you have lost a loved one and you are sad, it is a chemical. If someone attacks you and you are angry, it is a chemical. If you look around the world and see its failings, it is a chemical. Actions as extreme as terrorism or murder are the same neurological response as mocking or mild stress.
I am not discounting the impact of these experiences. I am also not denying the right we have to feel our emotions. The feelings are real. We are suffering. However, we must realize that the biological reaction of fight-or-flight is not just thoughts and feelings.
Due to the social survival mechanisms of our past, humans are currently subject to unnecessary fight-or-flight triggers. Consequently, many of us endure chronic, triggered conditions and their devastating physical effects. Whether through conditions like PTSD, depression, or something as unrecognizable as low-level stress, the once natural and rarely occurring ‘threat of imminent death’ has become a household commonality. And it is killing us.