Anxiety is a natural response to frightening situations. It is something that was hard wired into us when we were cave people as a mechanism to keep us alert to imminent danger such as wild animals and other tribes. It can still be helpful in situations in which we need to react quickly, such as jumping out of the way of a swerving car.
However more and more of us seem to get overly triggered by anxiety. Even though, no matter how scary the world seems to be, the reality is that most of our lives do not involve immediately life threatening situations. Yet we find that the same response that gets activated when we are in a dangerous situation, occurs from the ways in which we think. That primitive part of our brain can’t tell the difference between actual danger and a worry in our minds about something that could go wrong in our lives.
Over time, we can become more and more stuck in worried thoughts and too often experience the uncomfortable physical sensations associated with anxiety that are all too familiar to those who suffer from it.
Anxiety is all about the future. It’s about what might go wrong, what we are afraid could happen. This leads to obsessively planning ways of dealing with these potential future problems that right now, only exist in our minds.The reality is that we don’t really know what is going to happen in five minutes from now, never mind next week or next year. Whilst it’s useful to plan, constantly scanning for future problems just makes us feel bad.
What mindfulness teaches us to do is to become more present focused. This is extremely important in getting relief from anxiety as what we begin to notice about the present moment is that our basic needs for safety are met. We are not in immediate danger. This in turn calms the nervous system and deactivates the hair trigger of the anxiety response. With practice, this means that we are much less likely to become worried and afraid.