How our primitive mind can make us stressed

We have two brains – a logical one and a primitive one, which, in combination with stress, can cause us to feel anxious.

Wednesday, 25th November 2015, 8:41 pm

I would like to take a look at how this primitive brain can also be responsible for habit problems, phobias and OCD behaviours.

The primitive mind is there for survival – we don’t want to be thinking things through in an emergency situation, we want to be acting and reacting. Some of these reactions are automatically programmed in – anxiety, anger and depression, for example, are all products of evolution.

When we lived in caves, if the conditions outside were unfriendly, we would retreat into our cave and hide until things improved. We have adapted this behaviour to modern day depression. When we were in the jungle we were always on high alert for danger, something that now manifests as anxiety.

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Other behaviours we learn, and sometimes this primitive part of the brain gets the lesson wrong. For example, if, when we were young, we noticed our mother or father was scared of spiders, our brain starts to identify spiders with fear reactions and decides they are dangerous, giving us feelings of anxiety and a strong desire to run away whenever we see one, even if logically we know there is nothing to be afraid of really.

If, when we feel sad when we are young, we are offered chocolate and a cuddle, our brain starts to associate the chocolate with the good feelings of the mind and feeling better, leading us towards comfort eating during times of stress when we get older, as our brain believes this will make us feel better.

Finally, if everything else in our lives feels like it is out of our control for some reason we look for ways to take control back.

We start to tidy up and that gives us a sense of achievement, our brain will then look to replicate that feeling and come to believe the tidying, which gets more and more excessive, is necessary to make us feel better.

The good news is that understanding all of this is the first step to getting over the problems.

The second step is to look at therapies like Cognitive Behavioural Therapy or Hypnotherapy, which are designed to help challenge the way you think about things and to get the logical mind back into the driving seat, moving away from the primitive mind, its anxious feelings and the repetitive behaviours or phobias that it mistakenly thinks make things better.