The Anxiety that we need.

Anxiety! Just the word can make you feel uneasy.

I don’t know anyone who doesn’t suffer from anxiety at some time or another. But why? Why do we need what often feels like a curse?

As it turns out, it’s essential and necessary for survival. In fact, it’s a learned trait from our great, great, great, great… great ancestors.

I’m reading “The Tapping Solution for Manifesting your Greatest Self,” by Nick Ortner at the moment and he describes it better than I’ve ever heard it described with this brilliant story about Grog and Thor. Grog and Thor are two cave men hanging out enjoying the day when they hear a saber-toothed tiger in the distance. Nick’s story goes like this…

“Grog says, ‘I’m pretty nervous about that tiger. It sounds like a big one, and it’s coming our way.’

Thor, twiddling his thumbs, half meditating in a lotus position, says, ‘Brother man, there is nothing to worry about! The sun in shining, we’ve discovered fire and some basic tools, and this cave is luxurious. Bask in gratitude and the joy of life!’

Grog looks around nervously. It sounds like the tiger is getting closer, and quickly.

‘Thor, I’m going to higher ground. We’re tiger meat in this spot, and I don’t think the two of us are going to be able to handle this guy.’

‘Grog, you are so negative! Always talking about what could go wrong, always ‘moving to higher ground’ or worrying about this or that. You know, you’re just not going to attract what you want in your life with that attitude!’

Sensing the tiger’s approach, Grog scampers away at full sprint toward higher ground, where the tiger can’t climb. He makes one last desperate call to Thor, ‘Please! Run!’

Thor continues his peaceful meditation. And is swallowed almost whole by one of the largest saber-toothed tigers to roam the ancient world.”

The moral to this funny story by Ortner, is that Grog’s anxiety caused him to move to higher ground… and survive! Grog would have gone home and told his kids about the day and they would have learned to be anxious of Sabre toothed tigers and so the trait would have been learned and eventually, genetically imprinted.

Along the same lines, Thor, the lovely calm, peace and mung beans, version of ourselves that we all wish we tended a little more towards, didn’t get to go home and pass any traits onto any children!

So what do we do about it? Do we build a great big loony bin and check the human race in? Especially when we feel like we have more threats than ever?

Part of our problem is our perception. As cave men and women we needed this level of anxiety to save our lives from the daily threats involved with finding food and staying alive. These days a trip to the supermarket isn’t life threatening (although, there are a few parents who might tell you otherwise during school holidays with a couple of kids in tow!) For a lot of us, going to the supermarket can release the same fight or flight hormones as coming up against a saber-toothed tiger.

Then there is media and social media. A cave man didn’t feel the need to post his friend being eaten on facebook with an emoji of a scared face. He didn’t have to filter the numerous points of contact that would have followed, let alone deal with possible news interviews. By the same token, everyone back at camp was only exposed to Thor’s untimely death via Grog’s telling of it, not visually over and over until something more gruesome or newsworthy came up. Our minds are dealing with gruesome and heart wrenching news all day from all over the world, also releasing the fight or flight reaction, to events that we (for the most part) are fortunate enough not to have actually experienced.

Then there is our diet. Grog would have gone home, traumatised, to a home cooked meal of whatever meat had been killed or preserved recently and whatever fruit, vegetables had been gathered fresh. If he was lucky, there would have been a fermented drink to calm his nerves. But, he didn’t grab fast food on the way home because he was feeling unsettled. He couldn’t fill his body with preservatives and additives that it would have to process while also dealing with the cortisol released earlier in the day.

So what do we do? The good news is that since anxiety is a natural response that we are programmed to experience. We still want to feel anxious if there is a threat, we just want our bodies to understand what is an actual threat and what is a perceived threat.  Try these tips to help your body move back towards a better balanced state:

  • In Nick Ortner’s book he teaches a wonderful tapping session that helps you move from an anxious state to a peaceful state. Tapping is a great technique. Give it a go if you haven’t already.
  • Eat the rainbow. Basically, if it’s white, it’s out. As a gros generalisation, if it’s white, it has very little nutritional content. The bright colours of fruits and vegetables are trying to let you know that they are nutrient dense and will supply the nutrients your body needs to function optimally.
  • Drink enough water. Water and herbal teas help flush out your body and improve processing of waste. The cortisol that is created during a flight or fight response needs to be processed and flushed out of your body… as does any comfort food that may have snuck in!
  • Get outside. I love studies that come to the conclusion that walking in ‘green space’ is good for your health. Who would have ever thought that? But with busy lives it’s really easy to fall into the trap of going to work, rushing through your day, coming home to the couch, then waking up and doing it all again. Get outside and walk (or even just hang out) for 10 mins a day as a minimum and your day will be better for it.
  • Exercise. There’s no getting around it. We’re designed to move. If you’re not moving, you’re not going to be functionally anywhere near as well as you should be and that means you won’t be feeling as good (mentally or physically) as you could be.
  • Get help. If you’re noticing your anxiety at times other than during a saber-toothed tiger attack, then it’s becoming an issue for you. Check in with your health professional. They will do what they can and point you in the direction of any other helpful modalities.

As a Naturopath, anxiety is something that I see all the time. There are so many tools to calm the fight or flight response, like Herbal Liquids, Nutritional Supplements, or breathing techniques that are really effective. Our flight or fight response is something we need for survival, but we don’t need it kicking in if our phone rings, or the traffic light changes to red. We need to save it for our modern day equivalent to a sabre-toothed tiger attack, and no, that’s not the supermarket!

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