Human brains are wired for survival. Human bodies likewise are designed to respond to the brain’s search for survival. Survival is essential. If you don’t survive, anything else you could potentially experience won’t be experienced.
There is so much discussion these days about being happy. This is often portrayed as the natural state. But the natural state is actually survival.
The Calm State
There is one part of your body’s defence system where happiness is king. That is your ventral vagal state. When the ventral polyvagal nerve is activated you feel calm, contended, happy and very safe. This activation occurs when your brain is not anxiously seeking cues of danger.
The Search For Safety
Because humans are wired for survival and the world is far from perfect, then human brains devote a lot of time to checking for safety.
The more you feel unsafe, the more anxious you will be as you constantly search for safety. This leads to a lot of anxiety, which is not a happy place.
Places Where You Feel Calm
Meditation or having fun are two places where you can feel calm and alive and at your happiest. But those are two states where you cannot be anxious. To be in those states your brain needs to feel safe.
The Search For Problems
As part of maintaining safety, your brain searches for problems. Worry is automatic. It is that constant scanning of your environment for danger.
Research has shown that humans don’t have to learn to worry. Your brains will store all stressful events in life as general sensory information. This information is then used by your brain to pattern match information your brain senses.
The Near Enough Pattern Match
But the pattern is always near enough, not perfect, because a dangerous situation is unlikely to repeat exactly the same. If you waited for the pattern to be identical you might be exposed to life threatening danger that you didn’t recognise. So similar pattern matching is what your brain does.
The problem with similar pattern matching is that you can be triggered to believe you are in danger when you are not.
An Example of Near Enough Pattern Matching
A classic example is distant ancestor hunter gatherer Zog. He is walking through the grassland and hears a rustling in the grass. Suddenly a large predatory cat leaps out of the grass at him. He reacts with his knife and manages to fight the cat off. Wounded it slinks off. Zog has successfully fought off his predator.
Zog’s brain has stored the sensory information around that incident. His brain now recognises the danger of hearing a rustling in the grass.
A week later Zog and his friends are walking through grassland. He hears a rustling in the grass and grabs his knife and lashes out automatically. This time however, it is a friend playing a joke on him that he gets with the knife. His brain pattern matched the rustling in the grass to the danger of a predatory cat. And his brain acted automatically to protect him from the danger it had matched to a predatory cat.
This is how your brain pattern matches for safety, but imperfectly.
Modern Problems Are Not What The Brain’s Safety Circuit Was Designed For
Part of your brain checking for safety involves looking for problems. In the world Zog lived in, it was predatory animals, enemy groups, loose rocks, steep falls and so on. In the world you live in it is someone who is angry, missing the bus, the boss complaining about your work, the friends who are saying nasty things about you when you are not there. The list goes on. The physical risks of Zog’s world have been replaced by largely psychological risks.
Whereas Zog may have gone about his day alert for risks that were genuine, you spend your day checking for a lot of risks that are not physical but instead are psychological. These risks are a lot harder to spot and a lot more subtle. This means your brain is busy interpreting the behaviour of others.
Why Are Some People More Anxious?
Some people are more anxious than others. This is because they have been exposed to more stress than others. The stress that causes more damage is that which occurs in childhood while the brain is developing.
If you grew up in a war zone, you would have been exposed to more stress than someone growing up in a peaceful environment.
If you grew up in a family where the dynamic was unhealthy, such as the presence of Domestic Abuse, addictions, mental illness or difficulty coping with life, then you will have been exposed to more stress than someone growing up in a healthy family dynamic.
Regulation Is Important To Manage Anxiety
In the above mentioned family, you will also have had less opportunity to learn good coping skills such as regulation.
If other people in your childhood were anxious and impacted by the stress of the environment you will also have learned to respond to stress with anxiety.
Even if you grew up in a healthy family you can be exposed to stressful situations that impact your level of anxiety.
Those stressful situations could have been something outside your family’s control. They may even have been perceived by others to be so minor there is no memory of them happening. But your brain may remember them.
The Work Of The Anxious Brain And Healing
When you are anxious your brain seeks, and pattern matches things it observes and labels them as problematic. Even when they may not be.
It also takes work to repair and heal the causes of your anxiety.
It takes practice to learn to calm yourself.
You will always most likely be anxious, but you can work to reduce your reactivity and learn methods to calm yourself.
There are many techniques that can work there. I use a variety of techniques that depend on your individual needs. Somatic approaches, mindfulness, meditation, art and EMDR are some approaches I use.
Can I Help?
If you would like to talk to me about how I can help you with your anxiety, please contact me on 0409396608 or firstname.lastname@example.org
If you would like to learn more, I write a regular newsletter with helpful information, tips, information on courses, and the occasional freebie. At the moment I have a free mindfulness meditation for anyone who signs up to my newsletter. This meditation offers a way to safely explore your feelings and learn to be okay with them. If you would like to subscribe please click on the link here: http://eepurl.com/g8Jpiz