Dear Brain, Please Stop Being a ‘Doomsday Prepper’.

Dear Brain,

Humans no longer live in caves. I don’t live in a cave. We are no longer hunted by dangerous creatures on a daily basis. Bad things still happen, but we are not in constant danger, nor are our lives hanging in the balance of fate and being continuously threatened. I will not go out tonight and kill an animal for food in order to survive. I will have to cross the road to the supermarket and, yes, it is possible (God forbid) that I’ll get hit by a car in doing so or maybe even slip on an oily spill in the ‘cooking oils’ aisle, but aside from that my day is likely to be pretty uneventful. I know you yearn for drama, but that’s just how it is and how I like it.

I know that you’re trying to protect me. I get that you are always vigilant and I appreciate that. However the cost of survival is no longer eternal vigilance. This is the post-modern era where we value freedom and happiness. However we cannot be ‘free’ if we are always on the lookout for threats, by constantly assessing our environment and predicting the worse possible scenario. I do not need a ‘dooms day prepper’ living in my head. If dooms day comes, well…. I’ll accept it and I’ll make a deal now that I will not blame you. Here it is in writing… Right here. I would much rather be free and at-ease going about my daily life, than constantly be prepared for the very worse… I’m willing to accept those odds.

Please don’t take this the wrong way and thank you for your understanding.

Ben.

If only it were that easy to switch off millions of years of evolution (or lack thereof). Just like that. You’d think that being self-aware would free you from your own thoughts, but in reality it means squat. There are deep seeded ancient neural pathways so primitive and so reactive that they respond chemically before we even realise what’s going on, let alone have time to intellectualise and process it.

There are drugs, meditation, mindfulness, cognitive behaviour therapy, yoga and a whole lot of ‘resources’ to deal with anxiety, and they all help to different extents depending on the individual, however the question is… When will we ever evolve beyond the ‘fight or flight’ mode? When will our primitive, dark, sunken and lost neural cities from a time long ago finally dissolve?

Perhaps this is a ‘first world problem’. There are still many people who live day to day in sheer survival mode. There are still very real threats out there. The post-modern world is not exactly an even playing field. It’s no surprise really that people from developing countries or people who are living genuine hardship aren’t complaining about depression and anxiety. You could argue that the reason is simply that whilst they do have the same notions of mental illness, they don’t conceptualise it in the same way because it’s not a ‘priority’. There are greater and real problems in their life… But, I think that perhaps it’s deeper and more complex than that…

NatGeo's documentary 'Doomsday Preppers' shows that some people really do go all out in preparing for the worst case scenario!
NatGeo’s documentary ‘Doomsday Preppers’ shows that some people really do go all out in preparing for the worst case scenario!

I’ve written in previous blogs about being ‘hard-wired’ to suffer and I think this is true. I believe that the fight or flight danger response is so deeply rooted within our brains that our human psyche plays out an ancient and macabre desire to face and conquer danger, even on a subconscious level. If there is ‘real’ danger present and life is about survival then this urge is satisfied by our subconscious ego. However,  if life doesn’t throw up hardship, tragedy or life and death situations our minds become over active and create ‘danger’ in our psyche by playing out fictitious predictions of a negative and dangerous future that we ‘must’ avoid, regret over the past or simply the inability to cope with the present. It should be no surprise that depression and anxiety is so predominant in ‘developed’ countries and the more resources one has, the more likely they are to have their therapist on speed-dial.

Modern corporate politics may leave you feeling like a battling Gladiator, but it's life or death anymore.
Modern corporate politics may leave you feeling like a battling Gladiator, but it’s not life or death anymore.

This would explain why so many celebrities, successful, rich and famous figures fall to pieces. In the outside they would appear to have it all… Money, fame and fortune. They could have anything they want… Yet they are troubled and many turn to drugs, alcohol and suicide. It is as if; sometimes the human psyches desire for facing and attempting to overcome danger and threat becomes so strong that, when there’s an absence of actual threat our minds manifest it.

Our deep seated 'fight or flight' neural pathways are by no means dormant.
Our deep seated ‘fight or flight’ neural pathways are by no means dormant.

I watched a TV show yesterday that featured an author who was plugging her new book which is her story about how she overcame her crippling anxiety. When asked what the turning point was, she said something very unexpected and perhaps disturbing. She said what pulled her out of her anxiety was when her daughter was so ill, she almost died. Doctors had basically given up hope and had told the author that her teenage daughter would meet a certain death. The author spoke how dealing with a real threat, real grief, a real life or death situation shifted her perceived inability to cope and she got through it. It was as if, once she had dealt with a real tragic scenario and proved that she could indeed cope with that, her mind no longer obsessed in negative self-talk creating useless anxiety.

So what’s the answer? Do we all need to experience real trauma to overcome anxiety? No, I don’t think so. However I do believe that we need to evolve and practice hard at re-programming our minds to lift above the rudimentary fight or flight neural pathways that seem to crave relevance by creating ‘danger’. And I don’t think we are there yet. I think CBT, therapy and all of those things are good, but perhaps it’s as simple as being able to ‘watch’ the mind and recognise when the primitive danger craving beast in our mind rears its ugly head and see it as an irrelevant, useless creature left over from a time long past. Sounds easy right?

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