To feel, or not to feel?

In psychology there is a theoretical humanoid called hexamethonium. (For those of you who have studied this, please forgive my paraphrasing.)

This human is perfect outwardly. Placid and relaxed, he doesn’t blush, sweat, get angry or cry. His health is free from modern disease such as hypertension, ulcers, anxiety, depression for he is void of feeling. This creature would not survive, for it would not defend itself, nourish itself and likely not reproduce.

For humans to survive, we depend on the sympathetic and parasympathetic systems. They allow our bodies to function consciously and unconsciously. They warn us of danger. Alert us to hunger. Allow us to sense cold, hot, smell dangerous chemicals, taste foul food, hear or see a predator.

They also allow us to enjoy a meal, grieve a loss, share moments with a friend and passion with a lover.

Previously I mentioned our hexamethonium man was free from modern disease because of his lack of ‘feeling’. But, we, modern man do not have this luxury of placidity. We overstimulate our minds, keep them in a constant anticipation, releasing adrenaline and cortisol into our systems.

Let’s say you are crossing the street and a car comes rushing towards you. Your body secretes adrenaline and cortisol to increase your heart rate and flood your blood with needed chemicals and oxygen to move your body quickly out of the way. After you are out of danger, you can take some deep breaths, consciously knowing  your are out of harms way, and maybe a stranger places a hand on your shoulder and comforts you. These actions calm you, slow your heart and breathing and decrease the release of the ‘fight or flight’ chemicals.

Our problem today is that modern society has us running towards a future that never ends. There is no time for us to stop the flow and relax. And, the result of these chemicals continually released in our systems creates PTSD.

You ask how? Studies show our soldiers who are on tour in combat situations for extended periods experience PTSD. It is prolonging their heightened sense of danger that stresses their bodies and minds. Our soldiers deserve our nurturing when they return home to help aid them to relax and feel calm and safe.

And ourselves? We can for the most part take control of our stress. Thanks to those in service, we are safe, comfortable and free. The constant stimulus that we experience is for the most part self-inflicted. Work, family, finances are mostly in our control. A deadline at work is relieved by a celebratory drink. The tensions of planning the holiday meal fade away as the meal is enjoyed with those you love. Scrimping and sacrificing to live on a budget rewards you with a trip, a car, or simply peace of mind.

The same stressors can cause us enjoyment on that roller coaster, and be released by laughing them away as we exit the ride. Watching a movie can take us on a fantasy ride of emotions, comedy, thrill, horror, love…all released as we exit.

The question is not to feel or not feel, but how to balance the extremes so we not only survive, but thrive.



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