Thursday, April 7, 2016

Living With Anxiety

When I was diagnosed with severe anxiety a few years ago, I couldn't help wondering why evolution let anxiety exist. I wondered how the hell anxiety could help anyone survive when in the modern world it can be so destructive. So, I did some research and some practical thinking.

Long ago, anxiety (along with suspicion and fear) helped the human race as a species survive. It is the "fight or flight" instinct.

You are an early human on the great plains of Africa, and you see an early form of cheetah stalking you. Within fractions of a second, anxiety and fear kick in. They enable you to think a lot faster, to see all of the possible things your attacker might do. The cheetah could pounce, or it could charge. You are able to calculate the distance between you and your attacker easily. The cheetah will most likely charge, it's too far away to pounce. The cheetah starts to run, but that doesn't matter. Your anxiety seems to slow down time in your brain, allowing you time to think. Do you run or do you fight?

You know that shelter and the rest of your tribe is too far for you to make a run for it, the cheetah would surely catch you before you could get there. So you choose to fight. You grab the small spearhead in your satchel. Your heart is racing, you will only have a small window of opportunity to kill the beast and save yourself. The cheetah is almost upon you, it jumps into the air, you move your hand as the beast falls onto you. You feel the impact, and you are knocked to the ground. The cheetah's claws find your shoulders, and you hear it shriek. Your weapon has killed the cheetah, and you stand up, bruised but alive.

It was situations like this where anxiety meant life over death. Those who were more suspicious and anxious tended to survive better, because they could picture every possible outcome, and prepare for each one.

At the dawn of civilization, anxiety was still a very useful trait. If someone wanted you dead, you could run from them or fight them more successfully than people who had lower levels of anxiety. This was the case throughout the centuries into the middle ages, the Industrial Revolution, and into the modern era. Since the dawn of civilization, humans have not changed much in their chemical and physical makeup.

The modern day first world human sees little to no day-to-day violence in his or her lifetime. There are exceptions, such as if you choose to be part of a gang, or if you are in an abusive relationship. Aside from that, physical violence is not something that first world humans have to deal with on a day-to-day basis.

Despite the lack of physical violence in first world nations, there seems to have been an outburst in verbal abuse (this is also mental abuse or psychological abuse). It turns out that physical violence and psychological violence, while different, can lead to similar outcomes. With physical violence, you walk away (if you can still walk) broken and bruised, injured and if it's bad enough, you could easily be in danger of losing your life. Yet the human body is built for fighting, it is built for physical stress and strain, it is built to make you anxious and afraid so that in a fight, you can think better, see clearer, and win against your enemy.

The human body was not built for dealing with the stress of the modern world. We were not built to stare at computer screens all day, or to be sitting down in a classroom or an office all the time. Today, a lot of stress comes from psychological abuse, yet your body still acts like it is in physical danger. When you experience psychological abuse, your body feels the way it would feel in a pre-historic "fight or flight" situation. You become anxious. Time slows down and your thoughts speed up. You try to find ways to figure out how to solve a problem, but this time you can't. Because the problem is coming from a screen, a parent, a friend, school, or work, or everything at once. When there is no clear solution, there is no release for the anxiety. It rises, but has nowhere to fall.

Over time, built up anxiety can turn into added stress, depression, and possibly suicide.

In the modern world, anxiety can be extremely dangerous. Especially if you are like me, and you have a higher baseline anxiety than the average person. Thousands of years ago, this trait would have saved people like me from getting eaten by a cheetah. In the modern world, it can cause our minds to turn on our bodies, it can cause us to forget our basic instinct of survival.

Though this post sounds pretty damn depressing, there are things you can do to ease your anxiety or depression (or both). This is the first post in a possible series of posts about anxiety/depression, and in my next post I'll be talking about ways to reduce stress and anxiety. If you're a victim of extreme stress, anxiety and/or depression, I really hope this helps. Believe me, I know how hard it is.

Thanks for visiting today <3

Love,

Jess
#awareness #MUGTE #SpreadTheLove

1 comment:

Kathryn McKendry said...

You're so right that we weren't meant to just sit in front of a computer all day! But is sure is hard when you're a writer.