To understand the emotion of anxiety, I would like to take you under the bonnet of our brains and show, what parts of the brain are involved in it.
We will also look at different ways of how we can get anxious with a real world examples and see what is happening within our bodies.
So if you are ready buckle up and listen to the expert opinion.
The history story
To understand how we got to a brain that we have now, we need to go back in time to a Pokémon times.
Well, maybe not that back.
Lets go back to a crocodile times.
His brain is pretty basic. He can breath, move and reproduce.
Some time went by and evolution dropped an thick napkin full of neurons, on top of that brain. (Metaphor borrowed from ‘Wait but why’ article)
“Vuala,” we have our primal ancestor and his Old brain. He has every functionality from the lizard brain, and on top of that he has something called emotions and memory.
This features helps him to hunt, drink and flirt more easily. You know all the primal stuff for survival.
Again, some time went by and because this build was so good at survival, evolution dropped another neuron napkin on top of the Old brain one. Its the thinnest layer yet. Lets enwrap it.
Bam! Our modern human brain is completed.
In this layer we went past the point of just surviving. Now we can also think and imagine about the survival too.
So there you go. An thorough explanation of human brain evolution.
Psychologist: “But, if with the second primal ancestor drawing you represent limbic system, this system is less developed than hominids had. There should rather be mice or something. You need a couple of evolution iteration for hominids brain.”
“Just shut up, okay?” Super ego replying, as he does.
Ego:“You are making it more difficult as it is. Lets rather stick to our simple representations.”
The primal parts of our brain (lizard brain plus limbic system), would be represented by this drawing and we would call him; Old brain.
“What about the thinking parts then?” psychologist asking confusedly.
Those characters would represent, our thinking brain. These are psychological concepts like; Wisdom, Super ego and Ego.
Psychologist: “How would, what …”
Ego interrupting him: “Just; Old brain — emotions, new brain — thinking. You’ll see in the article soon.”
Super ego: ”They are not even totally sure how it all works.” noting grumpily.
Ego: “Yeah, everything is really complex and connected. We need to make a different point.”
Now that we have representations of different regions of our brain, lets move to the next part.
To show you what is happening within us when we feel fear or anxiety, I need to illustrate an dangerous example.
Psychologist: “Oh come on guys.” being offended.
Ego: ”What, it’s funny!”
Psychologist: ”No, not really. And on top of that, it’s not even dangerous.”
Super ego:”Yeah, what if you get stuck there? You know how hard it is to hunt with a bush on your face?” urging him to rethink his stance.
Psychologist, is just staring at both of them with “what” face.
Psychologist: ”Either way, everyone has a right to be the way, they want to be.”
Super ego:”Even if you cannot see, you know, eyes?”
“Yes even then!” psychologist trying to hold his professionalism.
Ego: “Okay okay, Jesus, I will use this boring example of a fear situation for one-hundredth time”
There is a lion: “Roar”. You see him, you feel fear and run away without thinking. Thanks to your Old brain fear response, you survived to share your genes forward. Bla bla bla evolution right there.
Super ego: ”Happy?”
Now few hundreds years later, you are sitting in a Starbucks, feeling anxious over what would you choose from the menu, using the same fear centers that you used with the bush example, I meant lion, lion example.
Now that we have this dangerous example in mind, lets look at different sources of the anxiety.
Anxiety sources; Old brain vs new brain
There are two ways how we can spark our fear center. (Literally, because of the electric potential neurons works on).
First: Old brain to anxiety
We see the bush and perceive danger, fear emotion kicks in and you react by running away.
Before you start to conceptualize the feeling, or think about the situation, Old brain is pulling all of you even new brain (Ego, Super ego) to safety.
Ego and Super ego floating in the space: ”Hey Super ego, Old brain looks kinda anxious.” Interpreting the situation afterwards.
Second: new brain to anxiety
You see the bush moving (giggles in the background). You start to think about it.
Ego: ”Is it wind or is there a lion?”
Super ego: “Like its actually so big, that you could hide one there.”
Old brain hears the conversation and word lion and react by running away, again.
Thanks to the fast reaction of your Old brain, you can share the situation.
In both cases you ended up running away. However the difference is that in first case the anxiety comes from your body sensation that you can later interpret as anxiety, and the second comes from your mind thinking about what you see, and then getting anxious.
Worry to Anxiety or Anxiety to Worry. Old brain to … you probably get the different sources of the feeling in play here.
In both cases you switch to something called; “fight or flight” mode.
Fight or flight mode
This situation when you are running away or fighting the perceived danger is called fight or flight mode.
In this mode Old brain is the boss and have the full power over you. “There aint thinking just primal survival reactin.“ Sometimes with strong emotions like panic your new brain parts can be totally shut down, there is just survival.
This is a state when Adrenalin, Cortisol (stress hormone) are through the roof.
Little note: Your old brain is more closely connected to your body. Therefor if your body isn’t well, your Old brain is more easily triggered into this mode. This could happen, If we don’t eat enough or we eat too much, and don’t know where to go, to poop. You experience the anxiety more often as one would do.
The more you are in a fight or flight mode, the more power old brain gets over you. And he is a simple primal guy. He doesn’t even speak, he just wants to be in the pleasant land as much as possible so he drinks, eats and watch YouTube.
However sometimes, we also want to write an article. For those new brain activities we have another mode. (Not that you cannot write in fight or flight mode, it would be just a little more complicating to hit the keyboard while running).
On the other side of fight or flight is a concept called “rest and digest”.
Rest and digest mode
Surprise surprise in this mode, you rest and poop. “There aint not poopin while runnin.” You also respond to situations, rather than react. It’s slower however more reasonable.
In this mode the boss are your new brain parts (Ego, Super ego, Wisdom). This is what you are experiencing now while reading this article and learning about the dangers from bushes. (Unless you are running than, good luck with obstacles).
Here the Adrenalin and Cortisol are low.
Our bodies are always somewhere in between those states. There is nothing wrong with any of them. We need both. The problem arise when we have too little of the poopin mode and chronically too much of the runnin.
How to poopin mode
Remember, there are two ways of how we can get anxious and in both of them, we feel the same.
What I wanted to show more clearly is this.
Wisdom:”Whatever way anxiety comes to a life. Recognize it.”
“Sometimes we can feed the anxiety cycle of: ‘feeling anxious -> worrying -> feeling more anxious -> worrying even more,’ without a real danger around us while not being aware of it.” wisdom noting silently.
Ego: “That’s it? Again just be aware?”
“We can wait a bit, and respond with a calmer mind and body. Maybe the worry would show us the value it has to offer, hiding behind the strong anxiety. Unless there is a real danger, than our Old brain would take care of us.”
Ego: “I suggest to look directly to the eyes of the fear and cut the bush to see what is there. A lion or a plain grass.”
Oh and bush people. Till it doesn't halt our day to day living.
I am in.
The other extreme; ‘a barbie style’, isn’t pleasant either.
Super ego: ”That was a proper bush, huh?”
Ego: ”Just imagine, if we would get stuck our teeth there.”
Super ego: ”Yeah, we wouldn’t be able to eat.”
Old brain wakes up to the thought and looks terrified.
Ego and Super ego start to laugh.
So bye bush people, whether you have one or not, we all feel the same anxiety. So be emphatic to each other.
Inspired by imagination, wait but why article, scientist work on anxiety (Dr. Jud Brewer, etc.).