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Our brains are wired for survival.

Our favourite tool for survival? Fear.

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We've all heard the sabretooth-tiger story. (Fun Fact: even though this example has been used for decades, we've only just recently confirmed that our early ancestors did indeed overlap with the existence of sabretooth tigers before they went extinct). But now we know for sure, we can confidently go back to our favourite story.

Imagine if you lived 10,000 years ago. It's nightfall, and you're lying on a soft patch of grass about to fall asleep. Then you hear a rustling in the bushes. You spring up from your sleepy state, 
  
Fear hits you. Your mouth goes dry (as it does today before we deliver an important speech or have a difficult conversation).  Your heart-rate increases. Unconscious to you, hormones (epinephrine, testosterone) are being cued up and produced. Your eyes dilate to see better. Your blood pressure increases and your heart beats faster.

Fear causes you to spring up from a sleepy to a heightened state, ready to make a run for it. It could be a sabretooth tiger, waiting to make you dinner. 

 

Fear - keeping us and our ancestors alive (mostly our ancestors though). Since we've been... alive. 

Fear and anxiety are the free advisors that life bestows on us.
They stick with us tirelessly through thick and thin,
always eager to yell advice so loudly that we cannot but hear it.

 

In fact, fear and anxiety have been so important for evolution that we have a major part of our brain - the Amygdala - just dedicated to it. 
 

But why does fear play such a big part in our lives? Exactly what causes us to feel fear? And how does fear affect us? 


For most of our history, staying alive was not an easy task. Or as the neuroscientist Beau Lotto puts more succinctly, "it was easy to die in the past". There were many things that threatened us:
 

  • We feared for our basic survival: necessities like food, water and shelter were not guaranteed.

  • We feared what was uncertain and what we couldn't control: What was the weather going to be like? Will a shooting star hit us?  Are eclipses the end of the world? What is that noise coming from the bushes?

  • We didn't share means of communicating. We can't tell if the tribe over the next valley is friend or foe. But if we treat them as friends when they are foes... the cost could be death.

  • We had limited medical abilities, so illness or injury carries a high risk.
     

On one hand, fear and anxiety motivated our ancestors to find better solutions: to gather food for later consumption or to find safer locations to live in. It kept our ancestors from doing something stupid, like jumping down from a high place because it's faster than climbing down.

On the other hand, the number of threats meant that fear and anxiety were triggered often and easily. We worry about uncertainty and a lack of control. We worry about change - in the status quo we are alive and well, we don't know if we will still be alive and well if something changed? We grew fearful of the things that caused us pain and avoided these. Resources were scarce, and we feared losing what we owned. Fear was a means of self-protection, and we grew really good at generating fear (qualities which remain till today - we often feel fear at the slightest 

Fear and anxiety have played an important role in allowing the human race to survive and thrive. There is nothing more important than staying alive. And so we have gotten really good at developing fear and anxiety. 

We now live in a different era.

If we just look around, our lives have obviously changed massively, mostly for the better. Many threats we faced in the past do not exist now. We have no predators. Most of the developed world never needs to worry about food or clean water. We have much better healthcare. And we have access to a lot more information with the advancement of technology. 

But even though our living environments have changed so much, the wiring of fear and anxiety, developed over so many generations of evolution, is not so easily unwired. (You can check out pieces of how easily fear can trigger in us, even when 

We still 

We are still wary of uncertainty and lack of control. Most of the time, we still fear change. We might We continue to have loss aversion - the agony of losing $10 is much greater than the joy of gaining $10. We try to avoid things that are painful.

 

Even though the 

spiderman fear bug

6 major characteristics of fear

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