Anxiety: Good For A Caveman

You’re trapped in the mountains on a hunt, with black storm clouds rolling in…it’s pretty damn useful for your brain to tell you something ain’t right and get you hustling back down the mountain towards the cave. From an evolutionary perspective anxiety helped us avoid physical injury or death.

In our modern society this same pressure is triggered by things that rarely lead to physical harm, such as sub-optimal social engagements or deadlines or work.

Our grand-cave-fathers never lived with their anxiety. They reacted to it until it left. Either that or they died in the mountains. We, on the other hand have the ‘luxury’ of being able to bury our anxiety deep down inside because we know we won’t die from it immediately. The irony is that while we have minimized the chance of short term physical risk we have increased our exposure to living with stress. Caveman Rex didn’t have this problem. He would either outrun the tiger or get eaten. Sometimes those feel like the days!

So, what can we do?

Well, recognizing anxiety and acknowledging that our bodies are trying to help us is the start. Dealing with it can be a very complicated matter but knowing that anxiety is an evolutionary trigger is the first step to not letting it be our master.

We may find ourselves in positions that require short or medium term commitments, such as keeping a job or persevering to get some degree. Our flexibility to change may require an extended time horizon, measured in months or years rather than seconds or minutes. Our futures are slightly more complicated to change than they were for Rex and the mental work is harder.

But, maybe we can start to put anxiety to work for us if we can let it serve its purpose as a signal to act on. Just as it made our cave-grand-fathers automatically alter their behavior until the anxiety was lifted, we can consciously put into motion the long-term actions required to create our change.

The way forward will be more complicated than simply out running a saber-tooth (or at least out running your hunting buddy) but as long as we do just a little bit each day to get to the new place we might find that the act of outrunning the beast is actually pretty rewarding and maybe we can try to find peace in the process.