There are many people in this world with many different types of personality traits.
Some of us are loud. Some of us are quiet. Some of us are nurturing, funny, cynical, assertive, or adventurous. There are a myriad different traits out there and we are all the product of some combination of them.
These traits aren’t just a fun way nature came up with to keep life on Earth entertaining and interesting. These traits are spread out throughout our species, and are a necessary part of our overall survival.
The nurturers are there to provide emotional support and the loving care that humans need. Those among us with a sense of humor are important because how would our species thrive if everything was sad or dramatic all of the time? The adventurous are necessary because those are the tribe members who are going to explore new territories. The brave are the ones who are going to go into battle and protect us from our enemies.
All of us have traits….probably several traits…that are necessary to keep our society functioning properly in a healthy way. Many of us living with anxiety disorders fall in the “protector” category. We are here to save the world…and ourselves… even though many of us may not consciously realize we are wired for that purpose. It often isn’t until our anxiety disorders erupt that we start to begin to understand what motivates us and stimulates our emotions. We are very intuitive people with a strong ability to “sense” things that others may not be aware of. We are wired to look for things that are “out-of-place” or “off” or “wrong”. Back in the caveman days, our job was to stay aware, look for possible danger, alert the tribe to it and then let the “fixers” see if there was a way to manage it. We are the ones whose job it was to say “Don’t eat that berry..it could be poisonous.” or “Don’t go into that thickly wooded area without protections…there could be wild creatures in there.”
Somebody had to worry about these things, right? And that somebody was us.
(I sometimes wonder if the other cavemen would say “Oh that Ugg! He is always worrying. He really needs to calm down.” the way so many people say about us with anxiety disorders today. Are we not SO unappreciated? People have no idea how exhausting it is trying to save and control the world. )
To help us with our role as the security alarm of our caveman tribe, we were given other personality traits.
We were given big imaginations to help us foresee and predict problems that others might not notice.
Our negative thinking, pessimistic tendencies were also a very helpful accessory to have because if we were positive thinkers we wouldn’t have cared if that lovely new berry growing on a bush might be poisonous. We would have said “I’m sure its fine. Go ahead and try it! What have you got to lose?”
Our sensitivity and empathy were very necessary in our role, because without being able to imagine how others would feel if something bad happened, we might not care so much, and therefore might not have been so vigilant about trying to alert them of danger. Because it hurt us to see others hurt, we wanted to protect them.
Having a brain that never seems to shut off is another trait many of us with anxiety have. It’s a 24 hour life we humans live, and especially so back in caveman times. You never knew when a tiger was going to come out and go on the attack so it was best that the tribe had somebody who didn’t sleep so great.
In these modern times, that part of our brain lives on in us “protectors”. Since it is our “job” to keep the world safe, we are wired to be alert and have overactive minds around the clock. Insomnia can be a huge problem for us because if the slightest disturbance happens in our life that is out of the ordinary such as having to wake up an hour early for work, or knowing our first day back to classes at college is starting soon, our brains pick up on this and can keep us up for days before they trust the world is okay and let us relax enough to fall back to sleep. It’s a horrible feeling, but it is absolutely normal – for us. There is nothing wrong with us. It’s all part of the “operating system” that makes up who we are. It is our brains working exactly as they were designed to do.
How does all this very normal wiring of our brain turn into a full-blown anxiety disorder?
Sometimes it’s simply due to a huge overload of stress that is more than we are able to cope with at one time. Everybody has a limit to what they can handle emotionally. Our stress threshold tends to be a bit lower than most people and quite often we have something happen in our lives that is more than we can handle and we start having stress symptoms that we are unable to control and are hard to recover from due to our emotional exhaustion. The nature of our condition is very obvious to us because the level of stress we were under was very obvious. There is no mystery to what is going on, but it is a “disorder” none the less because it interferes with our lives and it feels beyond our control.
Sometimes the cause of our “disorder” is more complicated though. Sometimes they strike and we don’t have a clue what hit us or what is going on. There are a couple of factors at play here.
1.) We weren’t born with instruction manuals that let us know exactly how strong our subconscious reactions to stress are. (Wouldn’t life be so much easier if we were all born with manuals?) Don’t get me wrong, we understand our basic conscious reactions to stress, but most of us haven’t a clue about how we are reacting beneath the surface of it all. We subconsciously react to things that we aren’t even aware we are reacting to. That is why our disorders often seem such a mystery to us. We aren’t aware we are living with an internal alarm system that is not only more sensitive than the average persons, but gives off a much more powerful internal and external response. When we start having anxiety symptoms such as a pounding heart when we feel calm or are at rest, or scary intrusive thoughts, or fear of swallowing our food, or suddenly we can’t go to the store because we think we will faint, we say to ourselves “These symptoms are so strong and bizarre. They can’t be related to the stress I am having. This is the same everyday stress everybody goes through and nobody else is having these problems! There must be something wrong with me!” And that fear of your stress symptoms, starts triggering even MORE stress symptoms and it becomes a vicious cycle that exhausts your mind and feels impossible to get under control. Thus an anxiety disorder is born.
2.) Another factor in our very normal anxiety turning into a “disorder” is that we live in modern times now. Massive changes have happened just in the last century alone and our caveman brains haven’t quite caught up yet. We are, basically, living in modern times, with primal survival instincts.
We live in a world now where we don’t have to be constantly on the look-out for danger or predators. Life is still extremely difficult for many people, but a lot of us live pretty comfortable, easy lives and our brains haven’t quite evolved into this new easier way of existing. We are living with instincts to protect, protect, protect ourselves and the tribe. And our “tribe” really doesn’t need us the way it used to…at least not in the same way. Threats are different now. The fear/adrenaline response isn’t as simple and “cut and dry” as it used to be.
Thousands of years ago, it was pretty obvious what the threats were. But now, they are more vague and challenging for our brains to process. There are no more lions waiting outside the cave door to attack us so we don’t have to be on constant “alert”, yet at the same time it seems as if we are under a constant barrage of “attack” in our lives from family, friends or our jobs. This can be really tiring for our brains to process. They don’t work as efficiently and they often start over-reacting…looking for the tiger that doesn’t exist…. especially during times of stress, too much introversion, and mental exhaustion. We start worrying about things that never used to bother us, often relating to our children or our own physical health. And if nothing there gives us a tiger to satisfy our primal urge to worry and protect, we often start looking inward for signs of danger. This is when we start having the “weird” mental symptoms of anxiety such as intrusive thoughts, phobias, and fears of going crazy or having a “nervous breakdown”. As you know it is SO easy to find problems when our tired minds turn inward, and once we DO find a problem and feed that primal urge to try to control our environment, our brain can “rewire” in a sense and start continually looking for more and more problems with our sanity and mental health – none of which really exist. It is just like giving a dog a chew toy. It’s a cheap and easy replacement for something real and meatier. This is very satisfying to our subconscious mind, but maddening and exhausting to our very aware conscious minds!
Your brain is HEALTHY.
It may be tired, but it is normal and it works beautifully well. Your anxiety disorder may feel like the worst thing that ever happened to you, but in reality, this is your brain doing the job it was meant to do: looking out for you and the tribe, keeping everybody safe. It just happens to be in overdrive right now. The reins have gotten away from you a bit. You are using your tendencies the wrong way. You have to break this habit, and find a new healthier way to satisfy your desire to analyze conditions, be in control, and keep the world safe.
Find a cause, take up a hobby, start a blog…these are all things I do to keep my mind from dwelling on unhealthy things, squelch my irrational fears and other symptoms of anxiety, and feel like I am protecting the world. I am here to help others with their anxiety. I am here to say “Your negative thinking and constant analyzing is so unhealthy for you. Consider this alternative I am offering you!” It really satisfies my need to help people and give them a happier, healthier, BETTER life.
I truly, 100% believe that we owe it to ourselves, the world, and to our fellow human beings to stay true to who we are, and use the personality traits we were born with, in whatever combination we have them, to give back to the world in the exact way we were meant to. I don’t believe we were meant to moan about the people we wish we were and the lives we were meant to have. Happiness lies in saying “These are my strengths – watch what I can do with them!” and then centering your life around those strengths. We are ALL here for a reason. We ALL have something to give, and our differences were given to us intentionally and should be celebrated and appreciated not only by ourselves, but by each other. We all have something to add that keeps the human species thriving. Just imagine a world without those of us who worry and fear all the time! Without us, humans probably would have died out thousands of years ago because the thrill-seeking adrenaline junkies would have talked everybody into doing stupid things like “Saber Toothed Tiger Chasing” or playing ” I Dare You to Eat That Mushroom”.
Understanding all of this is a big part of anxiety recovery because the belief that your anxiety is abnormal or some kind of defect is a huge mental roadblock standing in the way of recovery. Trying to start a war with your anxiety to “kill it”, is you fighting a war against who you were designed to be and that is why it feels so incredibly difficult to do. Accepting these traits as a part of who you are is the key to your learning to live a more peaceful, authentic life. It is the path that will take you to living successfully as a person with anxiety.