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Are we hardwired to worry?




Over the past 12 months or so I’ve been inspired by close friends and family members who have been coping with major life changing events to include death and illness of their loved ones or receiving a diagnosis themselves of health conditions most of us fear.


I began to reflect on the concept of ‘worry’ defined as ‘a cause to feel anxious or troubled about actual or potential problems.


As humans we’re geared to be constantly making judgements and trying to predict what might happen across a number of different scenarios. So, it's normal for us to feel uneasy and become anxious when challenged with uncertainty of what is to come – we’re hard wired to overestimate threats and underestimate our ability to handle them – even the big ones.


I’m sure you know deep down – if you think your predictions about the ‘outcome’ of whatever are likely to be true, you may be deluding yourself and worrying unnecessarily. Unless you’re an absolute optimist, you are probably more likely to be considering worst case scenarios instead of the best – this is what we do to protect ourselves.


I know you know that all that head space (energy) taken up with worry and ruminating is exhausting and definitely not good for our mental and physical health. We seem to be under the illusion that if we hold things close via the ruminating, predicting, overthinking we’ll have some sort of control.


What I’ve noticed about the people close to me is that they have been so resilient in the face of uncertainty and grief. They have found remarkable strength to help get them through each day – sometimes on a minute-by-minute basis. In their wildest dreams they had never predicted the ‘actual’ things that have been happening in their lives, but no doubt like the rest of us have probably worried about a whole lot of other things.


I’ve always felt the things we worry about will generally either not be as bad, or won’t happen at all. It’s the things we never thought about that knock us for a six, we don’t see them coming – but for the most part we cope. Somehow.

 

The moral to my story – use your energy to appreciate what is here right now – even the mundane. Pay attention to the present moment, even when it sucks. Become curious about where emotions land in your body, both the good and bad, sit with and acknowledge them and know these are part of what it is to be human. Please seek professional help if you need it. My local psychologist has the tag line ‘everybody’s got a problem’.


Overall, be kind to yourself and others in both thoughts and actions (yes this is where the yoga teacher comes out in me). Yoga is known as a practice that can help us develop the ability to cultivate resilience and steadiness of mind – this happens as we’re encouraged to stay in the present moment and become more aware of what’s happening in our body through breathing, movement and mindfulness practices.


Yoga can help us to develop an awareness of our actions and reactions; thus, giving us a choice in the way we respond. We always have the choice however we can learn to be less reactive and more reflective.


If we are repeating a response that fires up our sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight) in everyday situations eg getting caught in traffic, work deadlines we’re at risk of developing a chronic health condition, all that stress places pressure on all our bodily systems and naturally this flows on to how we feel mentally as well.


As humans we are going to experience big shocks and life changes that bring strong emotions as we experience loss, adversity, trauma in many forms. In no way do I wish to water down or be dismissive of this human experience. What I am aiming to convey is that there are practices such as yoga (as one example) that may be useful - especially as we manage those pesky day to day situations; but also to potentially help us build a form of resilience to manage the tough things.


It's a cliché, don’t sweat the small stuff – take care of you, those you love and embrace each moment.


Inspired by the people in my circle and everyone else who has found themselves experiencing grief, loss, ill health or other hardships.

 

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