“The Total bath of brain chemicals in the stress response elegantly (and unconsciously and automatically) prepares a person to deal with danger. In early evolution, this meant either fight or flight. After the danger passed, the body could relax. But with the advent of civilisation, neither fight nor flight are called for with any regularity, if at all. More often than not, we are left to stew in this bath of chemicals. As pain enters the psychological domain, it’s source becomes more abstract and diffuse. A lion’s bite is specific; it can be dealt with decisively. If one gets the opportunity: flee, or if trapped, the body floods with endorphins 100s of times more powerful than morphine, which in effects numbs awareness to the point of detachment. But mental pain is more elusive. Financial woes, an uncommunicative spouse, existential angst – none of these stressors necessarily yields to a single simple solution. Neither fight nor flight is satisfactory; the fight could make matters a lot worse, the flight even more so. Therefore the simple fight or flight mechanism is vastly inadequate in dealing with the complexities of modern fears.


While stress arousal is a fitting mode to meet an emergency, as an ongoing state it is a disaster. Sustained stress arousal leads to pathology: anxiety states or psychosomatic disorders such as hypertension. These diseases are end products of the stress response, the cost of an unrelenting readiness for emergency.


That response is in reaction to the perception of threat. Tuning out the threat is one way to short circuit stress arousal. Indeed, for those dangers and pains that are mental, selective attention offers relief. Denial is the psychological analogue of the endorphin attentional tune out. I contend that denial, in it’s many forms, is an analgesic, too.”



Daniel Goleman