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Digital Subscriptions > American Survival Guide > Sept 2019 > HARDWIRED FOR SURVIVAL

HARDWIRED FOR SURVIVAL

HOW YOUR BODY REACTS WHEN THINGS GO BUMP IN THE NIGHT

It’s 3 o’clock in the morning and you are deep into REM sleep. Rapid Eye Movement sleep is when you dream. In this state everything except your extraocular muscles and your diaphragm is flaccidly paralyzed. Your diaphragm remains active so you don’t suffocate. Nobody really knows for sure why your eyes keep moving. The origin and nature of dreams are topics that have intrigued mankind since the beginning of time. We still don’t understand them very well. This night you are dreaming fervently about something surreal that involves your wife, some industrial hydraulic fittings, and a kiddy pool filled with M&M’s. Your rapturous reverie is interrupted by the sound of glass breaking in the kitchen downstairs.

Physiologically, a lot of things happen quickly at this point. Once you are jolted awake, your body prepares itself to either fight or run. This biochemical response was first described in the 1920s by an American physiologist named Walter Cannon. This immediate constellation of hormonal responses to a threatening environment is categorized as an acute stress response.

GETTING ACTIVATED

The initiation of the acute stress response happens so quickly you aren’t aware of it. In fact, the system is so breathtakingly efficient that this biochemical process gets cranked up before your visual processing centers have fully digested the threat. It is this facet of your design that makes you jump back when you unexpectedly see a snake before you consciously realize it is a snake.

The human brain weighs about 3 pounds, and it is mostly fat. The amygdala is the part of the brain that controls emotional responses. It is here that the sundry inputs are translated as danger and the acute stress response system gets activated. This involves chemical messages sent to the hypothalamus, another portion of the brain.

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