Why do I feel anxious? Do you ever wonder why whoever created this world in such a wonderful and perfect way would punish us with sufferings like anxiety and depression?
Have you ever felt that you are not good enough or too weak compared to others?
When I was a student, I suffered from anxiety. I didn’t know it back then, as the word ‘anxiety’ wasn’t something people knew about. Looking back I thought I ‘just’ had a very low self-esteem and some phases of depression. And I was absolutely convinced that it was my fault, that surely I was too weak or not good enough or strong enough for this world.
So, why do I feel anxious?
Yes, you read that right. Our brain actually creates anxiety on purpose to help us. That doesn’t make sense, right?
The fight-flight-depression part of our brain – also called the original primitive brain – is a bit like our personal bodyguard, let’s call it Ivan.
Its job is to help us survive. It is as simple as that.
This personal bodyguard was a huge part of our life when we were cavemen. We probably had a whole army of Ivans to protect us back then.
Our lives have changed but our primitive brain has not
During our earlier years as cavemen and hunter-gatherers, life was tough. We had to be on the watch out for dangers all the time. Whether it was wild animals, other tribes or the weather, we needed to react fast in order to survive.
But how can being anxious possibly help?
I hear you! It doesn’t make sense.. Or does it? When we are ‘anxious’, all our senses are on high alert. It means we are much more likely to hear someone approaching or sense that something ‘feels not quite right’ and notice what is happening around us. Ivan, as such, was the perfect built-in tool!
But as we have evolved and so has our lifestyle, the immediate dangers have changed and our lives are much safer.
Yet Ivan is still the same. He is alive and kicking all day, guaranteeing our survival. And to a certain extent, we really need him in our lives. When that car comes fast around the corner or our child is in danger, Ivan will be there to inject adrenalin and cortisol and help us get out of danger and make fast decisions.
So how can we become the voice of the army?
Make Ivan your accomplice! He is like a best friend, there when you need him but we can also tell him to give us some space sometimes…
What causes anxiety?
Well, anxiety is caused by the way we think and perceive things.While Ivan is strong and fierce, he is not an intellectual type. He does not know real from imagined. So when we worry about things going wrong in the future, he thinks it is actually happening. And he will jump in to help. Similar, if we recall bad memories from the past, again Ivan thinks it is happening now and he will be immediately on high alert.
So really, it is the quality of our thoughts that is important.
Simply put, positive thoughts will bring on positive feelings and let Ivan have a rest. Negative thoughts will get Ivan to kick into action by causing anxiety, anger or depression or a combination of all three.
Surely no one can always just be positive?
I agree! Things do happen in our lives. But while we can’t change what happens to us, we can change the way we react to them.
Have you ever wondered why one person can get excited about a job interview while another wants to crawl under the duvet and hide?
Well, the difference lies in their thinking.
If we perceive something as a challenge, a positive thing, our brain will be in positive mode and support our goals. If we perceive it as a chore, danger or as insurmountable, Ivan will interfere and cause us to be anxious. That might also stop us from sleeping (after all in Ivan’s world, we need to be on high alert for dangers around)…
So how can we find the right balance?
Ivan reacts directly to our thoughts.. which literally determine the direction..
So if we think positive or at least optimistic, he will start walking in that direction. If we think negatively, he will get his army ready..
It really is simple.. We have the choice between ‘I feel terrible’ and ‘I feel better already’. Those two different thoughts will cause opposite reactions in our brain. ‘This always happens to me’ versus ‘I am getting good at dealing with things’.
So whatever you tell yourself, Ivan – your most loyal friend and helper – will make the utmost effort to make it happen.
So the next time you ask yourself `why do I feel anxious?` remember Ivan is there to help you and you can tell him what you need. To find out more about why solution-focussed thinking is so powerful you can read this article here.