Do you regularly shrug off feelings of anxiety? More and more young people these days are saying they suffer from anxiety. The demands of this fast-paced world we live in can be mentally and emotionally taxing. School, work, family, personal lives, and planning for the future can be a lot to handle. Sometimes it can be too much. I will even admit that ever since my freshman year of college, I have lived on a spectrum of about 20-30% anxiousness all the time. If something didn’t go my way (failed a test, wrecked my car, cracked my phone), my anxiety-meter shot up to about 50%. However, if something did go my way, it didn’t change and would hover right around 20-30%. I never wanted to go fully down to 0% just in case something bad happened, so I would already be mentally prepared. Wow, that sounds so unhealthy, but it’s true.
I think many people take a similar approach. Never allowing yourself to fully relax, just in case something stressful comes up. It wasn’t until I took a few psychology courses that I figured out why stressing out is such a natural tendency for us, and also how to deal with it in a healthy way. So the question is, how do we cope with anxiety when we live such stressful lives? This goes especially for college kids. When you graduate, the stress only becomes worse. You might as well learn to deal with it.
Now, with that said, why are people so on-edge lately? (and it’s not the coffee addiction) To answer this question, we need to understand some simple psychology. You see, our brains have a built in mechanism called the negativity bias. This bias is due to the fact that our brains respond to negative situations more strongly than positive ones. So guys, if you ask a girl to hang out, your brain cells will be more active if she says no than if she says yes. We remember rejection more clearly than acceptance and react more powerfully out of depression than happiness. In a nutshell, we are negatively biased towards life.
A study from the University of Illinois stated that a person’s negative bias was correlated with the size of their inferior frontal cortex, a brain region situated behind our temples and the front of our brains. Researchers suggested, “People who have smaller volumes have higher levels of anxiety; people who have larger IFCs tend to have lower levels of anxiety”. So if you are the kind of person who is naturally a little bit anxious, you probably have a smaller than normal inferior frontal cortex. It’s not your fault, it’s just science. This is not to say Mother Nature is an asshole who cursed us to be anxiety ridden stress-balls by giving us small inferior frontal cortexes. Our African ancestors originally evolved this brain-hack to protect themselves from lions. Which is worse: A stressful school week or a lion attack?
The way we cope with these never-ending stressors is to understand that our brains are only trying to protect us. It is one of our instincts. We naturally take a critical, cautious view of life. So when shit hits the fan, we react by upping the anxiety-meter. Rather than try to find every way to reduce stress in your life, it is better to simply understand why we become stressed out and recognize that it is a natural thing. So stop thinking there is something wrong with you, it is just your inferior frontal cortex.