These worries activate the same areas of the brain and the same hormones we needed to prepare us to run like hell or stay awake keeping the lions away. Over the millennia, we have gotten very, very good at worrying. Though it still isn’t comfortable, it has served us well in motivating us to plan to avoid disaster. The more we worry, the better we get at it. Some people are world class worriers, while others don’t spend enough time planning and worrying, so they do flunk the test and have to get by with the consequences of that. But these are not deadly consequences, so some of us survive as more easy going types, while others are master worriers.
Master worriers serve a purpose in society. They sometimes keep us safe by standing guard while the rest of us go about our business. Sometimes master worriers stir up trouble by shouting about dangers that are not immanent or even likely. Furthermore, each of us has our own personal version of the master worrier who stands guard at times when necessary or shouts at us about unlikely dangers. Not only have we inherited the ability to worry from our successful ancestors, we learn early in life the habit of worrying and some of us become little private master worriers while some become great and constant master worriers.
The problem is that the habits and hormones of fear and worrying are physically and mentally stressful and lead to chronic physical and mental illnesses when we are exposed to them too often and for too long. Also, worrying is not fun. So the life of a master worrier can be shorter and more painful than it has to be.
Some of us have learned to manage worrying so that it does not interfere with the joys of life. A few have become gurus on non-worrying. But for many, the inherited ability to worry and the self-reinforcing habit of worrying becomes a burden. In upcoming articles, I will address the problems with worrying and some of the solutions to those problems.