Mysterious forest

It may seem a strange thing to say that anxiety is good for you, but without some anxiety we would accomplish very little. Remember that anxiety is a stimulus, an urge to change something. A little anxiety may cause you to study for your driving test or go see your doctor once in a while. It is only when anxiety becomes excessive for the situation that it is a problem.

The Evolution of Anxiety

Anxiety is part of our evolutionary development and its purpose, to keep us safe, is the most efficient way possible. Let me illustrate.

One day Mrs. Neanderthal was out gathering wood to build a cooking fire. As she searched through the brush and trees in the nearby forest, her arms grew heavy with small branches and twigs. She reached for one last piece wood in the low brush when all of a sudden something long and thin sprang up and bit her arm. She dropped all of her wood, shrieked, and ran for the safety of her warm cave.

In the firelight of the cave, the tribe’s medicine man looked at the two small punctures on her arm and gently applied herbs and moss to the swelling wound. Mrs. Neanderthal was carefully tucked into a bed of warm animal skins and the tribe began to dance and chant around the fire, hoping to summon the healing powers of the spirit world.

Mrs. Neanderthal became quite ill and suffered much pain but before too long the fevers left and the wound healed. Soon she was able to return to her usual life in the tribe. She even returned to her duties of collecting firewood.

On a sunny spring day, she headed once more into the forest to collect more wood. As she reached for a small branch, the wind came up and the low brush and trees began to sway. A shadow from the trees flashed in the corner of her eye as she reached for a branch on the ground. Suddenly Mrs. Neanderthal threw her bundle of wood to the ground, her heart racing, her breathing caught in her throat. Beads of sweat appeared on her forehead and her hands became wet. Looking around in terror, Mrs. Neanderthal ran from the forest in a blind panic. When she reached her cave, she fell to the ground by the campfire. When she caught her breath, she tried to explain to the tribesmen who had gathered around her what had just happened but her mind was in a fog.

Nothing had attacked her. She had no wounds. She also had no firewood. What she did have was a great feeling of confusion and a dread that they would ask her to collect more firewood. From that day on, Mrs. Neanderthal felt panicked every time she thought about collecting wood or going into the forest. Even to cool off in the forest in the heat of summer was impossible.

To ensure her survival, Mrs. Neanderthal’s primitive brain had associated the moving shadow with the moving snake. In sloppy fashion, it had associated collecting firewood as well as the forest with her fear, pain, and sickness from the snake bite experience.

Our modern brain has developed the ability to analyze and make decisions based on ever changing information, but we are still hard wired for survival. Our brain often recognizes patterns in sloppy fashion. We feel the anxiety that is meant to keep us alive in situations that are not life threatening. In terms of survival, this is a case of better safe than sorry.

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In today’s world, some one sitting in a business meeting, who is unexpectedly called upon to speak to the group may find her mouth suddenly dry, her throat constricted, and her chest tight. Despite finding it difficult to breath, she may be able to convey the material needed in the moment but from that time on, any time she is approached by someone she doesn’t know, she again finds herself in panic mode. She learns to avoid all meetings. Soon, she can barely bring herself to go to work. And in worst case scenario, she becomes house-bound with agoraphobia. The fear-based learning (anxiety) is self-reinforcing without treatment.

The good news is that anything which is learned can be un-learned and replaced with healthier ways of acting and re-acting. Anxiety is the 3rd most common psychiatric illness, just behind alcoholism and depression, but it is very treatable.

You don’t have to suffer from anxiety, excessive worry, or symptoms of panic. Call today to start taking back peace and control in your life.

                  Call 801-494-7612 for an appointment

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