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Anxiety: Why Do We Get Anxious?

girl with anxiety on rocks

Anxiety is often the elephant in the room. Nobody wants to talk about it – in fact, nobody wants to admit they suffer from anxiety! It’s important to know that 1 in 3 adults across the globe suffers from anxiety on a daily basis; so shouldn’t we be talking about it more than ever?

What is Anxiety?

Speaking purely on an emotional and physical level, anxiety triggers feelings of panic, worry, and stress. This causes physical symptoms: fast heart rate, sweaty palms, inability to concentrate and much more.

The truth is, anxiety is triggered on a chemical level in the body and there are very deep-rooted, historical psychological reasons as to why we suffer from anxiety and why some people suffer more than others.

The Sabre-tooth Tiger!

To find out what anxiety is and why we suffer from it, we need to look all the way back to our cavemen ancestors! That’s right – it’s their fault! As an experiment, imagine that you are a cave-person living in a tribe. What would your needs be? At the root of everything, your greatest need is to survive as a human being and then to survive as a tribe. So your main concerns would be food, water, and safety. Your brain is hard-wired to KNOW that your survival depends upon these three things.

Therefore, if you see a Sabre-tooth Tiger, you know you are in danger as you could be its next meal! If you have no food, you know you are in danger as you may not survive. If your water supply has run out, you know that you could dehydrate. If any of these things happen, your body’s natural, the hard-wired chemical response is to release something called ADRENALINE.

Adrenaline is a chemical often referred to as the ‘fight or flight’ chemical. It is released as soon as the body PERCEIVES that there is danger. Its purpose is to shut off smaller bodily functions and prepare the brain with more oxygen to be able to deal with a potentially dangerous situation. If that Sabre-tooth Tiger is staring you in the eye, adrenaline is released into your bloodstream. Your heart-rate increases, your brain focuses on what to do in the situation and you have one simple decision to make: do I fight or do I run away? Those are your two options – the third one is that you get eaten!

Similarly, if a rival tribe comes to steal all of your food, your body perceives this as a danger. Your body prepares you to either fight to get your food back or run away from the situation to protect yourself.

Related: You’re Only Human!

How Does this Relate to Today’s World?

So once we learn where anxiety comes from and what it is, we can begin to understand why we need it! Anxiety is there to protect our survival. It’s as simple as that.

However, we no longer live in a world where we meet Sabretooth Tigers. We no longer live in a world where our water supply can be stolen. We no longer have to worry about some of the things that our ancestors worried about on an hourly basis.

Unfortunately for us, however, many of us still carry around a brain that is hard-wired to survive. On a chemical level, our brain DOESN’T KNOW that a Sabretooth Tiger won’t pop out from behind a tree. Similarly, it doesn’t know that all of our food is stored nicely in our fridge and tribes don’t come to your house to try to steal your food anymore. Therefore, some people’s brains are OVER-PREPARED for today’s world. If you suffer from anxiety, your brain is hard-wired to survive in a primeval situation. Unfortunately, there’s no switching that off! Even though we don’t have to be prepared to fight the Sabre-tooth in today’s world, our brain still thinks we should be.

So What Does this All Mean?

Quite simply, it means that anxiety sufferers are chemically wired to become anxious over things that others may not feel anxious about. A great analogy is to think of a faulty smoke detector:

If your smoke detector goes off in your house, what would you do? You would get up and look around for where the fire is. If, however, you don’t find a fire, you would reset the alarm and go back to watching TV.

If the smoke detector then went off again, what would you do? You would likely get up again, double-check there is no fire and then reset the alarm before sitting back down.

If it went off for a third time, you would probably surmise that you have a faulty smoke detector!

This is true of our brain as well. Imagine anxiety is your smoke detector. Sometimes your smoke detector is going off and you are feeling panicked and worried. However, in real life, there is no fire – or no danger. You have a faulty smoke detector which is over-prepared for today’s world.

In summary, anxiety is not something to fear; it is something that we all experience and some of us simply experience it disproportionately to the amount of danger we face. It’s sometimes much easier to process how you feel when you understand the reasons, and so simply knowing what anxiety is and what it’s for can begin to help you challenge your faulty smoke detector and begin to re-wire your brain to align with today’s dangers.

Related: Dealing With Insecurities

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