Mental Health – Human Instincts Part 1

By Veronica Mercer, Mental Health Accredited Social Worker

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“Human nature is the one constant throughout human history. It’s always there”

Thucydides

When humans are faced with danger or stress, a biological trigger helps us decide whether to stay and fight or get the heck out of there – flight.

When we find ourselves in a stressful situation like staring danger in the face, the brain’s hypothalamus is activated. It initiates a series of chemical releases and nerve cell responses, which prepare us to fight or take flight. Adrenaline is released into the bloodstream, our heart rate increases, blood is pumped more quickly into our muscles and limbs.

Our senses are alert, sight and impulses all intensify and quicken. Irrespective of us having free will or not, at least a part of our mind is making decisions based on a very deeply rooted program. That program is our instinct and, just like any other living being on Earth, human beings strive to meet two basic instincts:

  • survival
  • reproduction

Early caveman faced a lot of dangers, and the fight-or-flight response evolved to help them evade or battle those dangers in order to survive. Survival is a simple enough concept to understand. We, understandably, have a strong desire to stay alive. To achieve our goal of not dying, we avoid objects or situations that could be detrimental to our health. Although humans are animals, we also have something that no other animal has: the most complex social structure on Earth. We gather in;

  • families
  • tribes
  • clans
  • nations

We have an incredibly sophisticated method of interacting – speech. We can communicate over time and distance and our memories are the longest, our interactions the most intricate, our perception of the world simultaneously the broadest and most detailed. It is a combination of biology and society that makes us do what we do. Biology guides our responses to stimuli based upon thousands of generations of our ancestors surviving because of their responses.

It is our social structures that dictate restrictions on and how we carry out our biological responses. We can alter rather than merely adapt to the environments we find ourselves in and this enhances our chances of survival. It was the invention of agriculture and domestication of animals that improved our food supply, the building of dwellings enhanced shelter from the elements; science and medicine have greatly increased lifespan and quality of life.

In fact, human ingenuity has altered every aspect of our world to improve our lives. We still have the instincts of our hunter-gatherer relatives, we humans are still experts at spotting predators and prey, despite the developed world’s safe suburbs and indoor lifestyle. At the same time, we’re living in a society that reaches for higher moral grounds through the evolution of ethics and empathy.

Our need for moral progress is probably also an evolutionary trait, ensuring social progress, which is a necessity of our survival as a species. We have gotten this far not only because we are skilled individuals, but also because we’ve found ways to work together during the direst of circumstances. Fortunately, also regardless of us having free will, human behaviour can change very quickly.

What can be said about this is that, at the very least, it’s an evolutionary trait that has contributed to our survival. So, changing the rules of the game is within our capability as a species. My next article will continue the exploration of human instincts in our modern world. Wishing you all good mental wellbeing – Veronica.

Go to Human Instincts – Part 2

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A highly successful sales and leadership career working in a number of different and very competitive industries. Engaging with decision makers at all levels in business and government. Three decades employed by corporations, SME businesses in senior roles and almost twelve years operating as a freelance contractor has equipped me well for all aspects of business. Whether leading and mentoring sales teams, or in a direct sales role I enjoy the challenge to meet and exceed expectations. Making a real and tangible difference in either a team environment or as an individual is an important personal goal I have consistently achieved throughout my career. In all of my business and personal dealings over the years there is one issue that stands out above all others - communication. Excellent communication skills creates trust, helps with mutually beneficial outcomes and above all cements long lasting positive relationships. I strive everyday to communicate effectively with the people I encounter.