Baseline Anxiety

Inspired by a tweet by Zuby.

Through evolution, humans are hardwired to deal with physical threats and the scarcity of resources. We are conditioned to respond quickly to external stimuli for self-preservation.

When we see danger, we run, or we fight.

When we see food, we eat.

When we have the opportunity, we mate.

(Mating is a form of self-preservation – it ensures gene survival.)

Therefore, the mind is constantly on the lookout for dangers, resources, and opportunities to mate. We cannot let our guard down, lest we go hungry, get killed, or have our genes weeded out of existence.

And because of this, we are evolved to develop a level of Baseline Anxiety in our mind.

While this anxiety can be useful for reasons of self-preservation, it can be emotionally crippling.

After all, the human mind is engineered for survival, not happiness. Anxiety, fear, and pain are signals sent by the brain to the body to take action to ensure safety and continuity: to fight, flee, eat or mate.

The antidote to Baseline Anxiety is action. We perform physical activities to take our minds off physical threats and the danger of depleting resources.

Our ancestors kept the Baseline Anxiety at bay by keeping busy: hunting, farming, fighting.

In the modern times, physical activities have declined.

Legitimate threats are gone. (We are no longer chased by tigers for food.)

There’s no scarcity of resources. Almost nobody dies from hunger – at least in the developed world.

Unfortunately, however, our inherited Baseline Anxiety is still present.

Consequentially, our threshold for danger has become very low.

We get triggered by faux outrage on social media. We become worried at the very first sign of ill health. We ruminate over small things…

Something bad is always around the corner. Someone’s always out there to get us.

And because the mind has a baseline level of anxiety, it has developed a fixed capacity for worry.

We no longer have to fear dying from hunger, or getting mauled by a tiger. Our mind, therefore, looks for new sources for worry. So, we become conditioned to feel anxious over relatively petty things.

In the absence of strife, we have become soft and fragile.

The question is: How does one develop mental resilience in the time of abundance?