The world we inhabit today is very different from that of our ancestors from hundreds of thousands of years ago. Much of the human brain has also evolved – and some has not evolved enough!
Because we have the same (or similar) primal emotions, we have a mismatch in terms of our beliefs and perceptions arising out of societal conditioning and modern living, resulting for so many of us in chronic stress and anxiety.
Early humans evolved out of necessity to know, recognise, and act on urgent emotions; their very existence relied upon it. If a predator was sensed, the neurotransmitters required to take immediate action by the ‘would be prey’ were deployed – and the human organism was optimised for ‘fight-flight’. There was, therefore, an immediate benefit and value in the process of getting ‘fired-up’ and acting. Once the event (threat) passed, just as with animals observed in the wild, the physiology returned to a state of homeostasis, or balance.
However, today, we are driven to deploy these same neurotransmitters or hormones for benefit and value perceptions that are more often future-based.
If I perform well at work, I may expect a future bonus or career reward, so I stress and worry for long periods before that possibility. This position doesn’t allow for the stress hormones to dissolve in the way it once did for our ancestors.
We are still adept at acknowledging many emotions but as you’ll see, these are immediate action emotions:
- When we get thirsty, we recognise this – and have a drink. The thirst disappears.
- If we recognise hunger, we eat. We are no longer hungry.
- If we feel disconnected with others, we can connect. We are no longer lonely.
- And if we mindlessly step out into traffic – we can act instinctively without so much as a conscious thought – and step back to safety.
Animals in the wild and our ancestors don’t, and didn’t, have chronic stress because everything was present. This is just one reason why mindfulness is so useful today, because being ‘mindful’ helps us ‘see’ with clarity the reality of ‘this moment’, rather than worrying over future-based issues that do not, in this moment, exist.
- Worry and stress over future-based possibilities for which there are no actions to take ‘now’.
- Maintaining anxiety, angst, and sadness for events that have passed, and which are no longer here, now.
As humans, we crave certainty. It’s somewhat ironic then, that as newly conditioned future-based thinkers (blessed and cursed with imagination) that we should seek certainty in a place that never, ever exists, the future! If we want peace of mind – and less toxic emotions – we need to ‘check-in’ and ask ourselves, “What is my experience right now, this moment?”
I’ll need to re-learn, as from when we were small children, how to ask questions of my present moment without judgement. And today, I can regularly check in and ask … “What is MY emotional barometer looking like?”
- “I feel anxious” (acknowledging the emotion)
- “What is that about?” (non judgemental enquiry)
- “Is there an action required about my concern at this moment?” (finding acceptance for now – or taking a positive action)
The Cost to Our Health
Chronic Anxiety can affect our health in various ways:
- When stressed and anxious our immune system is ‘turned down’ in an efficiency drive to optimise the body for action. Hence, more colds and other infectious illness, and significantly, less optimal fighting of the cells that can grow inappropriately and which over time may lead to certain cancers.
- The significant blood required for digestion is diverted to parts of the body required for fight/flight, leading to Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), poor digestion and nutrition uptake.
- Inflammatory responses occur across the organism, as seen in IBS, heart and vascular disease, including high blood-pressure (Hypertension).
- Anger and other increased reactionary states which threaten relationships and workplace performance.
- Poor sleep affecting overall physical and mental health.
- Clinical exhaustion.
It is clear then that we would wish to avoid as many of the conditions and symptoms mentioned above, and more besides.
What will you do to change your own wellbeing – and those who love you?
What are you waiting for? Change occurs when we decide; we are the keepers of our own psychological and physical wellbeing.