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Anxiety, while often painful, disruptive, and sometimes debilitating to the person experiencing it, is a completely normal response to a situation that is stressful. The same innate biological responses that cause anxiety in us today were fundamental to our ancestor’s prehistoric survival. Our heart rates speed up, minds race, palms sweat and bodies shake as adrenaline floods our systems, preparing us to fight or run away from a threat. If our bodies hadn’t responded in this manner back in our Neanderthal days, we would not have survived very long at all.

The difference between then and now is that most of us are relatively safe at any given moment, and are less likely to need to physically protect ourselves from external threats. The same evolutionary processes that once kept us alive have a less significant role in the modern world, but unfortunately this does not mean that they cease to function.

Evidently, since so many of us are experiencing various forms of anxiety, our bodies have continued to react to perceived threats. It’s no longer giant, furry predators that provoke our fight or flight responses, but the daily stressors of our jobs or the weighty expectations that we cannot seem to shake. And one of the most significant threats to our safety today is how we speak to ourselves. Thoughts such as “you aren’t good enough”, “how could you have been so stupid” and “they think you are disgusting” are internalized as threats, and our bodies attempt to protect us from them. The trick is that these thoughts are often hidden in the background, and we aren’t necessarily aware that they are the trigger.

To combat the internal threat that you pose to yourself, try to be aware of the thoughts that accompany your physical symptoms of anxiety. With this awareness you can begin to replace some of those thoughts with more compassionate ones, similar to what you might tell a friend in the same situation. Try “you are doing fine”, “no one even noticed”, and “don’t be so hard on yourself”. It might not always come easily, our brains can be tricky to control at times, but with practice and perseverance you just might be able to tame your wild mind and make it work with you rather than against you.


Heather Anderson

Photo by Practical Cures on Flickr