Fight-flight / chill-thrill

What is the alternative to ‘fight-flight’ (hunter mode)?  I have arrived at the alliteration ‘chill-thrill’ (chill incorporates ‘rest-digest’ but thrill is something special…)

Some background: What anthropologists have discovered by observing Southern African San (bushmen) and other aboriginal peoples is that the majority of time in a week or month is spent not doing much (from a Western modern society point of view). In other words the San spend a lot time not in hunting mode and not in fight/flight mode. Instead, they spend time being with each other socially or in a kind of ‘chill-out’ mode. This way of spending the 24-hour day enables people to conserve energy, socialise and bond, convalesce, eat, tell stories, reflect on the day’s events, make sense of the stars and moon, meditate, prepare for sleep, sleep, prepare for getting up and watch the world around them.

Thinking back to our early human history (going back to Palaeolithic times) this ‘chill’ relaxed way of being in the world, with more opportunity for ‘cathedral mode’, allow us to recoup when not out hunting or in flight or fight mode. It would have been our way of being for thousands of years while sleeping, staring at the night sky, looking into the embers of a fire, telling stories and singing, and caring for others including the young and old.  It would have been associated with gathering together or gathering oneself.

In this relaxed chilled way of being, we would have settled into ourselves, into our sense of time and space and awe.  By sitting on our haunches and sitting bones we might have had more time for cathedral vision.  This is in contrast to the ‘edge of seat’ aspect associated with hunter’s vision where we would be mentally living in the future – thinking about the forthcoming challenge. Cathedral mode would have also allowed the hunter in us to reflect on the day just passed, to perhaps recount stories, and to think creatively.

Chill thrill and fight flight


But ‘thrill’ is something else entirely.  Thrill is both an activity like dancing or chi-kung or welcoming a sudden blast of cold air, and a result often seen as a goose-pimple (goose-bumps) frisson – also termed a ‘autonomous sensory meridian response’ (ASMR).  I attempt to explain in the book why thrill is beneficial to our health and why it is involved in relaxing the face.

The two modes of fight-flight and chill-thrill support each other. The ‘chill-thrill’ or cathedral mode would have been the perfect counterweight to ‘fight-flight’ or hunter mode. The diagram below hints at the advantages in being able to balance (invoking a mythical palaeo-lifestyle of course) both flight-fight and chill-thrill.


Balancing chill/thrill and fight/flight