Where does anxiety come from, and why does it seem to constantly be a part of our lives? It seems like a series of daily tasks shouldn't affect our emotional well-being and mood, but they most certainly do. It is never as simple as it seems!
Here is an example: think about a bear in the forest. That bear is thinking about immediate issues, like avoiding hunters, seeking shelter in a storm, or finding food. However as humans, we tend to worry more about problems in our future. While a bear is walking through the woods and thinking, "I'm going to find fresh water to drink," we are thinking, "Will this water make me sick? What errands do I need to run tomorrow? Speaking of errands, do I have enough money in my bank account? Am I on the right path towards happiness in my life?"
These kinds of worries are what cause anxiety and stress in our lives. Our brains simply weren't designed to solve the unknown problems of the future! Within the last 100 years we've gone from a very simple way of life to a much more complicated system. We now have cars, television, computers, internet, smartphones, Snapchat, Justin Bieber, and everything in between! All of the things that we encounter in our lives today have come about within a very short time frame. In the scope of evolution, 100 years is just a blip in time. It took us thousands of years to evolve into hunting, gathering, and eventually farming humans.
Therefore, our brains are still using the same processes from thousands of years ago. Stress used to be a helpful emotion, as it helped us fix whatever immediate problem we were faced with. You see a lion, you feel stressed, you run away, the stress is relieved. You haven't had enough water, you feel stressed since your'e dehydrated, you find water to drink, your stress is relieved. Anxiety and stress were emotions that helped keep us safe by forcing us into making quick decisions for quick results. It was a short-term solution, so experiencing it in those small bursts didn't cause a problem.
Now that we live in a long-term environment where we think about the problems of our future, we are in constant stress and worry - an issue we never had before. We live in a world of uncertainty. There is no guarantee that taking big risks will work out, or that well land that high-paying job, or that well find our soulmate.
So how do we survive and thrive in an environment where worry and anxiety is around every turn? One way to help reduce your stress and worry is to create a form of measurement. If you're tracking your goals (such as weight loss, retirement savings, job pursuits, etc.), it will give you small milestone reward rather than only seeing the big end goal that's farther down the road. This will help take away some uncertainty about the situation, and help reduce your anxiety about it.
Change what you worry about. Rather than stress yourself out about that big presentation, worry about the small preparations you're doing each day to get there. Instead of stressing about how you have 10 more pounds to lose before your wedding, worry about how you'll build a healthy meal for dinner tonight.
Focus on improving yourself now. Making healthy substitutes today, will lead to a longer and healthier future. Getting up and meditating each morning will increase your well-being, and help you better address stressful situations down the road.
See a pattern? Making small decisions each day will help reduce anxiety by creating immediate results for things that may be future worries down the road. Instead of only seeing the big problems, focus on what you can do today to make your life better in smaller (more rewarding) increments. Measure your success, and keep moving forward!
[Credit: Clear, James. What is Anxiety: Why We Worry and What To Do About It. Greatist.]