Live More, Fear Less: Survival Instinct

Let’s be kind to ourselves. 

Many of our fears are connected to the possibility of being hurt or losing our lives. The physical changes that happen to us when we’re afraid – dilation of pupils, an increase in heart rate and blood pressure, a rise in blood sugar, tensing of muscles – are meant to help us survive, to get us ready to fight or flee.

Some kinds of fear are a result of conditioning – circumstances in our past that create fear in us. Being bit by a dog can develop into a fear of dogs, even cute, little docile breeds. Being trapped in a closet could lead to claustrophobia. Falling into deep water and not being able to swim might even make a person fearful when looking at a photo of the ocean.

Fear might also be rooted in our natural survival instinct. It’s possible that people who are afraid of snakes, spiders, rats, etc have a stronger survival instinct than others who don’t share this same fear. Ages ago, when the bite of these creeping creatures killed humans on a much more regular basis than they do today, running away meant staying alive. Those that survived might have passed on this specific tendency in their genes.

Even those social fears that many of us have might also be related to our survival instinct. Take the fear of public speaking – what if you make mistakes/sound stupid/freeze up/vomit all over everyone? This fear could stem from being laughed at one too many times. Or maybe it comes from somewhere deep in our genetic makeup – an instinct to avoid the one-versus-many scenario (as in lynch mob).

Fear is a natural response to real or perceived threats to our physical or emotional beings, whether we’re conscious of them or not. Our fears are real, no matter their roots. And everyone is afraid of something.

So be kind to yourself. The next time you’re tempted to beat yourself up over a “silly” fear, try to remember that your response to those things you’re afraid of may very well have kept you (and your ancestors) alive.

Has your response in a fearful situation ever saved your life?


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