Fight or Flight: Why Can't We Seem to Relax?

I was listening to a podcast the other day, highlighting the importance of meditation - its physical health, mental clarity, longevity, and productivity side effects. No longer isolated to traditional buddhist monks, meditation is on the rise. I guess it makes sense, we all have busy lives, a lot of thoughts and "to-do's" we would like to take a break from, and probably a lot we would like to let go.

The podcast touched on all our "open boxes." These boxes referred to life events, assumptions, or thoughts that trigger mental stimulation and end up unfinished, pushed to the side, on to the next. I'll explain the process steps to break it down.

First, a certain event or moment causes a reaction that triggers a fight or flight response in the body. Think about a stressful family situation, social drama, projects on the horizon or big interviews.

Next, we either react with an immediate action, feeling physical sensations of stress ruminate somewhere in the body, or move on before we even handle it (likely because some other event caught our attention.) We allow a situation to affect us, but don't properly deal with it, we don't let it go, so it stays.

Third, the trigger unmanaged leaves an "open box."

All these open boxes pile up. They do not "close" until the stress felt is understood and assumed to no longer be a threat. This is because bodies, though incredibly intuitive, do not understand the difference between instinctual stress of safety, hunger, warmth, etc. and 21st century stress of social anxiety, families, deadlines and dieting. Stress is stress. It's innate side effects are the same no matter the cause.

Unlike those earlier centuries our triggers are not from predators or starvation, we are not running from a tiger, but instead causing inflammation and tension from certain routine and toxic thought patterns. We don't see it, we don't know the difference, it's just daily life. We feel things deeply and then distract ourselves to not "waste time." But these boxes are open, manifesting somewhere in the body. They accumulate to fatigue, irritability, physical pain and emotional distress. These emotions don't go away, they need to be addressed and dismissed.

Western society idolizes "busy" and promotes productivity to the extreme. As humans in this culture, it's no wonder we adapt, allowing our bodies to feel constant threat - from the pressure, the expectations, the dissatisfaction and the unsettled feelings. We have planners on our desks, phones, computers and refrigerators just to keep up. We dismiss family issues and ignore concepts of isolation. We create reminders and make lists as we fall asleep. We work and we never stop thinking.

The podcast used this truth to explain the ways meditation intersects our open boxes. Through quieting the mind, easing tension throughout the muscles and joints, breathing slow and steady, our mind changes. We give our overworked brains, internal processes and even our organs a chance to rest. Slowing the pace, detaching from harmful thoughts, breaking up patterns, connecting to our bodies with belly breaths. I'm telling you, magic happens. These basic principles, sounding so simple, get neglected daily, swept under the rug and forgotten, yet they have some of the most healing benefits found in research today. It's a lot of prosperity to take advantage of.

Unfortunately our new normal isn't compatible for the body. Instinctually this wasn't how humans were meant to live. Previous generations had home grown food, deep connection, and outdoor influence, but times have changed and with a booming economy and massive technology development we are met with constant screen time, over use of transportation, decreasing mental health and pharmaceutical overload. It's just a different place and our bodies suffer because of it. We don't get a break.

We expect ourselves to keep up with insane schedules and draining expectations while staying strong, meeting societal standards, and having a social life. We take it for granted and truly, the big picture doesn't make sense. Not even machines can function like that for long, how could we?

Meditation gives us the chance to step back, to gain perspective, to listen. We can connect to our bodies in a way beyond manicures and workouts. It's not an aesthetic but an experience, healing in its own distinct way for every person. Consciously taking the time to stop may sound easy, so easy that people don't even try, but it's really not. We have been bred high functioning, the constant flutter of our brains goes unacknowledged until you finally feel what it's like to stop. Meditation allows us to calm down - mentally and physically - so we can close some of our boxes.

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