The fearful animal
Fear, anxiety, worry, rumination, sleep problems, phobias, anhedonia, depression, discomfort. Any idea how many people are suffering from any of these or combinations of these? Just count the number of prescriptions for anti-depressants, antianxiety pills, sleeping pills or painkillers. Then add the amount of people who smoke, drink, snort, or inject substances to reduce or limit the feelings above. You will find that there is a surprising percentage of the population who suffers from these feelings.
Fear mostly of the time is related to something specific, like fear of heights, fear of blood, etc. Anxiety is related to an intangible feeling of something bad going happen, but you don’t know what.
Anxiety and fear aren’t only negative emotions, they prevent us from running into trouble or being overconfident in dangerous situations, and they prepare us for action for survival (flight-or-fight).
Why do so few people wonder where all of this comes from or what the root of this is?
It is because of our tremendously developed brain, the cerebral cortex. the powerhouse of our human cognition and intellect, but built on top of ancient brain structures, which form the emotional brain.
To keep it simple:
It has to do with time perspective. Animals with a less developed cognitive brain (cortex) do have the same emotional brain as we do. But they hardly suffer from all of these feelings.
Our cognitive brain not only can look back in our past through our memory, e.g. we know many things from early childhood. This is perfect because it allows us to learn lessons from the past or not make the same mistake twice, because we remember what happened the last time we encountered a situation like that. (Cynics might remark that funny enough history teaches us that we do not seem to be able to remember or learn from the lessons from the past but rather make the same mistakes all over again).
Whereas our cognitive brain developed over time, our emotional brain did not evolve and it now responds to the many insignificant events and non-existential problems that surround us as vigorously as it did in prehistorical times. The emotional part of our brain is also our stress-response system and this was developed a long time ago, designed to survive or to escape from life-threatening situations! Situations that were infrequent and short, i.e. having to fight with a bear or being chased by a tiger. That did not happen every week and lasted somewhere from seconds to minutes at most.
The real quality that bothers us is the ability of our brain to look into the relatively far future, to predict, to anticipate. A great tool if you want to cross the street, or when you play ball games, but also if you have a calendar, when you marry or if you sign up for a mortgage. Somewhere you have a albeit vague idea how not only the near, but also the far future will look. Another factor is the ability of our brain to associate or to connect events or situations.
Animals do not carry the burden of the past as much as we do nor can they anticipate in the far future or associate things as well as we do. Their fears are about more existential problems like security, reproduction and food.
Media, being it telegraph, newspapers, radio, TV, internet and social media are great for transferring information: let’s call it news. A news item that in the past took weeks to reach a handful of people, can now reaches millions of people within minutes, thanks to modern technology. Let’s face it, every hour, every day our brains are bombarded with thousands of messages. How many do you want or really need? How much does a situation at the other side of the planet really affect you. Or could you do without that message, does it add something useful to your life? Would your life be less valuable or would you be less happy not having known this news? Or do you suffer from FOMO (fear of missing out)?
And is it really new or is it the same clusters of events happening repeatedly? And what does it do to your cognitive and emotional brains? Disasters and misery seem to be omnipresent, as they always were, but you just did not notice them that well.
The internet was supposed to connect you with other people, but despite your many Facebook-“friends” and Instagram-like, people now feel more lonely that ever before. The lockdown situation during COVID-19 only amplified that. The rise in mental health problems is tremendous.
Modern technologies, politicians and governments have learned to perfectly exploit or manipulate the weaknesses and biases of our brains. Fear is a very powerful driver of human behavior. We do a lot because we are afraid that…. We do and don’t do many things out of fear.
Fear walks hand in hand with uncertainty and confusion.
Many, if not most fears are irrational, designed to subdue the general population. Just create an invisible, badly defined common enemy and the job is halfway done. The fear of this enemy makes the population accept a careful program of suppression.
This protocol already starts at childhood: “be nice to your mother otherwise the bogeyman will come and get you”. In recent history we have had the Cold war: the Red (Soviet-Union) and the Yellow (China) dangers and its threat of nuclear war, the Millenium bug, smoothly followed by the War on Terror especially after 9/11, and as we speak the War on COVID, part of the announced Great Reset, that might be great, the only question is only: for whom?
Not only is increasing fear more and more cleverly used as a proven political instrument for population control, it is also a great tool for several industries. The security industry, or currently the pharmaceutical industry. To mention a few. Fear sells, your fear is their profit.
This all apart from our baseline-fears: economical fears, losing your job, not being able to pay your bills in the future, or ecological fears like the hole in the ozone layer, raising of the ocean level, climate change, fear of crime, etc.
By increasing our daily comfort and trying to erase all feelings of discomfort, threats, or frustration, we in reality weaken our defenses against any setbacks or discomforts. It is a biological law of adaptation. For example: if you tire easily you can avoid any exertion, get into the car instead of walking, take the escalator instead of the stairs and avoid exercise. Or you can go through the discomfort of training or exercise, while getting more tired, getting sore, but improving your endurance and raising the threshold for getting tired. Just avoiding your discomfort, physically or mentally, is an inefficient strategy to deal with physical or mental stressors or discomforts.
So what can you do:
1. on an individual scale: increase your awareness about your major fears, are they real or not, are they relevant or not, are they significant or not? Mark Twain said it right: “I’ve had a lot of worries in my life, most of which never happened.”. We worry a lot, but most of the time it is not justified at all. Worry seldomly makes sense, since most problems are self-limiting and solve themselves.
2. become aware of the fact that worry seldomly is an efficient mental strategy for solving problems, better get the bull by the horns or think about a creative solution instead.
3. ask yourself if the cause of your worry is really worth activating the precious stress-response system and facing the well-established long-term effects of a chronically activated stress-response system, which we know to be detrimental for your health and well-being.
4. on a social scale: resist or fight the programmed fear-mongering and planned paranoia by the media and stop assuming that the government and politicians are representing your voice or are interested in addressing your needs. It is an old and proven tactic: create an imaginary fear or enemy and then: “Oh, you don’t have to be afraid, just do what we tell you to do and then everything will be OK”. Remember: they are working for an elite group of corporations, spearheaded by lobbyists and lawyers, who dictate the government.
Don’t worry about that, they are driven by more and more powerful fears that you are, they have more to lose.
This entry is more than a collection of loose thoughts, it is supported by 30 years of collecting information from many sources in an attempt to understand human behavior.
A very short list of useful literature you find here:
Breuning, L.G: Anxiety: what turns it on, what turns it off, Inner Mammal Institute, 2018.
Amen, D.G: Conquer worry and anxiety; Tyndale, 2020.
Holland, E: Nerve: a personal journey through the science of fear; Penguin, 2020.
May, R: The meaning of anxiety; W.W.Norton, 1977.
Jeffers, S: Feel the fear and do it anyway; Jeffers Press, 2007.
LeDoux, J.L: Anxious: The Modern Mind in the Age of Anxiety; OneWorld, 2015.
Davey, G.C.L; Wells, A, (Eds); Worry and its psychological disorders : theory, assessment, and treatment; John Wiley, 2006.
Carbonell, D.A: The worry trick: how your brain tricks you into expecting the worst and what you can do about it; New Harbinger Publications, 2016.
Gardener, D: The science of fear. Why we fear the things we shouldn’t and put ourselves in greater danger; Dutton, 2008.
Freitas, D: The happiness effect: how social media is driving a generation to appear perfect at any cost; Oxford University Press, 2016.
Sapolsky, R:.M Why zebra’s don’t get ulcers; St Martin’s Press, 2004.
Foley, M: The Age of Absurdity. Why modern life makes it hard to be happy; Simon & Schuster, 2010.
Dobelli, R: Stop Reading the News: A Manifesto for a Happier, Calmer and Wiser Life; Hodder And Stoughton, 2020.
William Gerin et al: Rumination as a Mediator of Chronic Stress Effects on Hypertension: A Causal Model; International Journal of Hypertension, Volume 2012, Article ID 45346er
Viscott, D: Emotional resilience; Crowntrade, 1996.
Ropeik, D: How risky is it, really? Why our fear no always match the facts; McGraw-Hill, 2010.
Silver, N: The signal and the noise: why most predictions fail but some don’t; Penguin, 2012.
Tetlock, P; Gardner, D: Superforecasting. The art and science of prediction; Crown, 2016.
McKay, M: Mind and emotions: a universal treatment for emotional disorders; New Harbinger Publications, 2011.
Chomsky for beginners; For Beginners, 1996.
Chomsky, N: Media control: The spectacular achievements of propaganda; Seven Stories Press.
Herman,E.S; Chomsky, N: Manufacturing Consent. The Political Economy of the Mass Media, The Bodley Head, 2008.
Karsten, F; Beckman, K: De democratie voorbij; Aspekt, 2011.
Taylor, S: The Fall. The Insanity of the Ego in Human History and the Dawning of A New Era; O Books, 2005.
Coleman, V: Endgame; The Hidden Agenda 21
Options for increasing adherence to social distancing measures (UK) – Internet article