If you worry you have a evolved brain.
Powerful emotions, like anger, fear, anxiety, are products of our neurology and created largely for survival. It’s just that our brains no longer know we are not living in caves and threatened by being eaten alive.
Alfred E. Neuman was an iconic figure in the comic book MAD in the 1950’s*. MAD’s first editor, Harvey Kurtzman identified him: “It was a kid that didn’t have a care in the world, except mischief.” Few of us don’t have a care in the world and most of us worry.
If you are someone who tends to worry or be anxious (probably most of us), listen to what Professor B.L. Chakoo has to say:
” Worrying is primarily the result of poor communication between the thinking prefrontal cortex (which is the whole surface of your brain) and the anterior cingulate which notices all your mistakes and contributes to ‘the tendency to dwell on everything that is going wrong’.”
“Anxiety, by comparison, is mediated by some circuits within the limbic system which is the emotional part of the brain and is responsible for things like fear, anxiety and memory. So, there is no reason to get upset with yourself for feeling anxious or worrying too much. It is just a by-product of your brain’s evolution.”
“Yes, it would be a marvelous world if we never felt worried or anxious, but that is not the way our brains are ‘structured or wired’. We as human beings worry about the future, ‘regret the past, and blame ourselves for the present’. We get upset, feel angry, frustrated when we cannot have what we want, and sad, irritable or disappointed when what we desire ‘ends’.”
He also says that our brains make things up, and so you can worry about something that has not happened yet, as well as regret what did happen.
The Good News
If the brain is the cause of suffering, it can also be its “cure.” Understanding why you worry or are anxious will help your brain will develop the ability to right itself. Decades of neuroscience inquiries have shown us how to modify our brains and change the levels of different neurochemicals.*
We can also grow new neurons and improve the way our brains work to reduce stress:
- Movement – walking, jogging, gardening or even walking up and down stairs – increases ‘the firing rate of serotonin neurons’, which causes them to release more serotonin.
- Exercise with moderate intensity increases norepinephrine which helps with concentration and deep thinking.
- Activity outside is best since sunlight improves serotonin production . . . as does . . .
- . . . Interactions with others.
All these activities increase serotonin production in the anterior cingulate cortex, which help keep you from thinking about negative experiences.
And that means having an easier time saying “What? Me worry?”
*To read the entire article by Professor B L Chakoo