Written by Ali Mariani.
Believe it or not, my anxiety has a very distinct purpose. It is an adaptive function that, at one point, helped the human race to stay alive and fend off enemies. Say I was a caveman living in the jungle: I needed to be ready to fight or flee whenever a life-threatening species came near me. If a lion came wandering near my cave, my anxiety would kick in, specifically my fight or flight response also known as my Sympathetic Nervous System. I needed to protect myself, so I ran, I fought the lion, or I climbed a tree to get away from it.
But even cavemen felt anxiety. Cue your classical anxiety symptoms: my heart beating faster, my breath shortening, heart palpitations, and an increase in my blood pressure. These symptoms actually help me to act swiftly, to move faster, to have more guts, and to act with increased strength. When the brain perceives danger, it activates the adrenal glands, which then propel an adrenaline rush. This explains why people are able to run faster, to act quicker, and to hit harder when under stress. Anxiety is actually a good thing.
Ironically, many people talk negatively about anxiety today. I am totally guilty of it, too. I always think, UGH, anxiety. I dislike it, I loathe it, and I wish it would leave me alone! It can be inconvenient, uncomfortable, and very handicapping. But here’s the thing: fundamentally, it is protective!
Fundamentally, anxiety protects me from danger. The only problem is this: I experience anxiety in day-to-day tasks like going to school, going grocery shopping, sitting in traffic on the highway, or waiting for my turn in line. I will not die if I have to wait in line a minute longer (although I have honestly felt this way) but my brain is still registering anxiety. Why?
Anxiety serves the same function that it did thousands of years ago: to protect me from harm. The difference is this: today, I fear the potential of harm even when it isn’t present.
Our ancestors may not have feared the security of their schools, but today, I am very aware of the large number of mass shootings that have occurred on school grounds. I don’t need to fight a lion outside my cave today, but I saw on Facebook that a five-year-old went missing on his way to school. And I don’t often have to murder a poisonous snake, but I did see on Twitter that the Ebola virus spread to the United States.
Although the dangers aren’t always directly present in my life, they are still present.
I live in an anxious society- one where information is accessible 24/7, at my fingertips. It’s a blessing and a curse. I am far too aware. I need to know everything, as soon as possible, from as many sources as possible.
There are many affective ways to address anxiety: medication, therapy, meditation, CBT, yoga, breathing, etc. But here’s another one I am exploring: less social media, less news, less awareness. I don’t often watch the news because I know what it will do to me. I know that knowing everything won’t solve anything. Call it naïve, call it ignorant, call it whatever you want: the truth is this; I just want to be happy.
So, if and when that lion did pay me a visit, it may come as a surprise to me, but at least I didn’t waste half my life worrying about it.