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Why do we experience anxiety?

Hand helping a climber man to raise the top

Why do we experience anxiety?

Where does anxiety stem from? This is a question that comes up often and can be difficult to explain. I have been reading a fabulous book by Allan and Barbara Pease, and in it is one of the most simple breakdowns of anxiety I have ever come across. In their book, The Answer (2016), the authors take you back to our ‘old’ brain – the one we used to survive the wild. With continuing research, our ‘old’ brain is gaining more recognition for the huge role it continues to play in our lives. Historically, our ‘old’ primal brain kept us alive – we’ve all heard of the flight or fight response. In evolution it is what we relied on to know when to retreat from danger.

These days we don’t often need to retreat from the danger of a hungry animal. However, we maintain these instincts. We also remain hardwired to be part of a group. Perceived rejection from our group raises our fear and anxiety, as rejection from your ‘clan’ or ‘tribe’ reduced your chances of survival. Think of the whole ‘safety in numbers’ saying. In the 21st Century, we find ourselves accommodating primal responses in a modern world. So how does this affect us?

Whilst our daily fears are rarely stimulated by hungry predators, we now frequently seek to survive financial problems, employment insecurity, broken hearts, lost opportunities, or rejection in many forms. Unable to distinguish evolutionary times from the present, our fears are responses to what our ‘old’ brain can perceive as life threatening situations. These, when manifested, can create ‘disorders’ that adversely affect our mental health and social well-being.  Our fears may present as low to no self-confidence, painful shyness, retreating from society, feelings of failure, self-resentment, and struggling to move on. When disordered, these fears can tend to run wild.

So how can we explain anxiety? Perhaps we can say that it is an evolutionary survival mechanism responding in a modern day world, using an ‘old’ brain that is unable to distinguish between the then and now.

Perhaps we can say – it’s a primal instinct.

Life is loaded. Life is tough. Be kind to you – be kind to those around you. Life is now. Your’re doing it!