Dr. Charles Glassman

Charles F. Glassman, MD, FACP – Coach MD

Our brain has evolved over tens of thousands of years for the primary purpose of protecting our physical body.

It is my contention that our primal instincts, which reside in a place I call the automatic brain (AB), do not arise from conscious thoughts but are instead sheer reactions to sensory input. Because our AB cannot conceive that our actions or reactions could result in death, I believe that the “survival instinct” is a misnomer. My observation is that our instincts are more danger, threat, or vulnerability instincts.


Surely, when we are in danger, are threatened, or are placed in a vulnerable situation it can lead to death. However, our primitive reactions are similar whether or not they take place in life-or-death situations. I conclude that this brain simply reacts, does not think, and surely cannot contemplate concepts as arcane as death.

For instance, imagine yourself in a crowded audience listening to a speaker. The speaker poses a question and suddenly points at you, asks you to stand, come up to the podium, and address your off-the-cuff answer to the audience. Your AB drives you to react in one of two ways when faced with danger: fight or flight. If this brain could actually understand the risk of death rather than danger, then you should not be trembling, feeling sick, stammering, or feeling your heart pound out of your chest and into your throat as you head to the podium. But your AB perceives an audience as potential danger and being in front of that mob could expose your vulnerability, so your AB has you fighting, fleeing, or both. Help!

This AB has us fighting and fleeing throughout our everyday lives. It happens at work, where we face deadlines, decreased wages, unreasonable bosses, crazy workloads and schedules; on the road with cars weaving in and out cutting us off;  in relationship and family disagreements; and from health challenges. The fact is that our physical body takes the brunt of this fighting and fleeing. In order to fight or flee danger, threat, or vulnerability our body reacts exactly the same way as it once did to prepare our prehistoric ancestors to battle or run from predators.

What happens when you prepare to fight or flee? Among the more common signs:

1. Muscles tighten and shorten so you can spring into action

2. Respirations become shallow and rapid to maximize oxygen intake

3. Blood pressure and heart rate rise to increase nourishment of the muscles

4. Intestines and bladders contract (often experienced as butterflies) to expel excess weight

5.Thinking gets clouded from blood shifting from brain to muscles, extremities/, and sensory organs

You may head to a doctor’s office with the symptoms of this reaction. Unbeknownst to the doctor, challenges in your everyday life are the basis for your symptoms. Generally, we physicians are really good at giving symptoms complicated names and then treating those symptoms, but honestly spend too little time getting at the core of issues.

If you are having stress in your life (i.e., activation of the AB, causing fight or flight), the result is definitely having an effect on your physical body, which can lead to symptoms that will help your doctor form a diagnosis. Instead of seeking care from a medical doctor (a proud profession of which I am a member), I suggest looking into the following modalities and practitioners. This list is specifically to deal with the effects of the AB on your body and not a recommendation for treatment of any particular diagnosis. Personally, I have tried most of these and find them effective. Additionally, I meditate every day.

Here is my list:

1. Acupuncture

2 .Chiropractic

3. Craniosacral Therapy

4. Feldenkrais Method

5. Massage Therapy

6. Meditation

7. Pilates

8. Psychological Therapy

9. Reflexology

10. Rolfing

11. Yoga

So, next time you find yourself screaming at the car next to you after they cut you off, understand that processes are happening in your body at that moment that your doctor may not be able to handle. Seeking alternative approaches may be exactly what you need to break the cycle and interrupt the automatic reactions of your brain.

Dr. Charles Glassman

Charles F. Glassman, MD, FACP - has practiced general internal medicine, for over 20 years.  Dr. Glassman specializes in personalized, patient focused care, with an emphasis on wellness and prevention. He approaches medicine in an integrative manner, looking carefully at all traditionally approved methods while recognizing the power of unconventional therapies. Dr. Glassman has repeatedly earned National and Regional Top Doctor and Patient Choice Awards. His new service, Coach MD blends the knowledge and experience of a caring medical doctor with the passion and guidance of a life coach.

He is the author of the critically acclaimed book Brain Drain, which helps explain and fix self-sabotage. It is the winner of the 2011 Independent Publisher's Award and 2011 Eric Hoffer Award as the best Self-Help and Health book, 2010 Pinnacle Book Award for best Self-Help Book, and 2009 LA Book Festival Best Spirituality Book.

To new subscribers on his website, he is now offering his free, new EBook, Destiny Diet. Weekly, Dr. Glassman hosts Medicine on the Cutting Edge, which gives a voice to pioneers in medical research and development. Dr. Glassman lives with his family in Rockland County, NY.

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