The World Health Organisation has described the decline in our mental health as a global crisis. Covid has laid bare a fragmented and broken society, and a more troubling pandemic of widespread unhappiness. Modern living with its punishing demands is a large part of the problem. We are told that our value depends on what we produce, achieve and consume. Our dehumanising sociocultural landscape, rooted in decades of transgenerational trauma, has become a breeding ground for insecurity, shame and loneliness.
Experts conclude that the underlying cause is stress. Our bodies respond by activating the fight or flight response presenting as anxiety, panic attacks and anger. When unable to fight or flee, our bodies resort to the freeze response presenting as depression, isolation and dissociation. Knowledge of the unconscious, neurophysiological mechanisms at play when our bodies detect threat provides us with the opportunity to develop the tools and awareness with which to turn the tide on this tragic endemic.
Viewed through an eco-evolutionary lens, so-called mental health disorders such as anxiety, depression, OCD, ADHD and addiction are better understood as normal adaptations to an abnormal existence. In an otherwise healthy environment we would employ them as temporary solutions to our struggles. But our hostile and disconnected world keeps us unconsciously locked in defensive modes much longer than nature ever intended.
Health issues associated with the fight or flight response include insomnia, poor memory, headaches, high blood pressure, heart disease and heart attacks. Health issues associated with the freeze response include low blood pressure, weight gain, diabetes, chronic fatigue syndrome, irritable bowel syndrome, fibromyalgia, and cancer. A now, burgeoning volume of evidence informs us that most illnesses are not merely exacerbated, but are caused, by stress.