The Evolution of Anxiety

By Rich Presta

Right smack dab in the middle of your noggin is a part of your brain called the thalamus.

This is sort of like your brain’s traffic cop whose job it is to direct the data you get from your senses and make sure it gets to where it’s supposed to be going.

So if you smell some delicious chocolate chip cookies baking, your thalamus will be sure that “yummy smell” data makes it way to the part of your brain that makes you hungry.

Now this is where it gets interesting.

Whenever you get input from your senses, it gets sent to two different parts of your brain for analysis.

One is called the frontal cortex, and it’s right below your forehead.

The other is called the amygdala (uh-MIG-duh- luh), which is actually two nerve centers that look like almonds and are located on either side of the thalamus.

The frontal cortex is where the cool stuff happens. It’s the part of our brain that makes us different than gorillas and chimpanzees, it’s where the “human” part of us lives and is why we can figure out how to build an airplane, drive a car, or do other complicated things that other less evolved animals can’t.

From an evolutionary perspective, this is a brand spankin’ new part of our brain, it’s only been around a couple million years.

The amygdala on the other hand, is old. Real old. It’s part of what is often called the “reptilian brain” because it’s been around since we were virtually reptiles ourselves, and one of the main jobs of the amygdala is assessing danger and keeping us safe.

The amygdala is like a file cabinet of important memories. Not memories such as your favorite guacamole recipe or where you put your car keys, but memories the reptile in you considers important.

You know, stuff that can hurt or kill you.

You have to keep in mind that the job of a reptile is only one thing, to make more reptiles, so it doesn’t need to remember much to accomplish that and it doesn’t consider most events important and worthy of remembering.

What about catching food you may ask?

Reptiles only need to catch food and eat in order to stay alive to make more reptiles. It’s a pretty single minded existence, and probably hard to believe that we still have that part of our brain making decisions for us, but we do, and it’s a powerful force.

If a lizard strolls out into the open in broad daylight and gets attacked by a predator and manages to survive, the amygdala is going to remember that.

Not for a day, not for a week. Forever.

From then on, the lizard will remember that open spaces and daylight equal danger, and will start to hide or only come out to catch prey at night.

Hard to disagree that those are all good ideas in the life of a lizard right?

That part of your brain still operates the same way.

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This is an excerpt from Rich Presta’s ebook “Your Anxious Brain” – How Science Is Changing Our Understanding Of Anxiety And Revealing How It Can Be Treated More Effectively And Faster Than Ever Before.

Get your free copy by subscribing to the Relieving Anxiety newsletter – use the form below.

[Image from article Talking to the Amygdala: Expanding the Science of Hypnosis.]


More articles by Rich Presta.

Rich Presta is “an internationally recognized expert on overcoming anxiety, panic attacks, and phobias, and a former fearful flier.”

Programs by Rich Presta :

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The Anxiety-Free Child – One of the most acclaimed programs for children struggling with fear or anxiety, the Anxiety- Free Child Program is recommended by doctors and psychologists everywhere.

The Takeoff Today Program – Fly comfortably with the help of the Takeoff Today Program, complete with resources to use in-flight to aid in relaxation and confidence. Foreword by Jeffrey Skiles, co-pilot of Flight 1549 “The Miracle on the Hudson”..

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