Study after study is proving that increasing numbers of people are affected by mental illness. According to Robert Wright, a prize-winning author and journalist, this is the result of natural selection.
What Wright means by this is that natural selection programmed us to live in an environment where our fight-or-flight response was once useful. Back in the days of the caveman, this was a crucial survival mechanism when faced daily with physical danger. When confronted by fear, our brains would instantly decide whether to run away or face it.
But then humans invented machines and technology. The world around us evolved to a very comfortable, low-risk society, but our brains are still wired for a hunter-gatherer society where danger is part of our everyday existence. The problem people with anxiety disorders are facing is that this fight-or-flight feeling is now activated without any obvious danger in sight.
So how can we fix this? According to Wright the antidote is meditation. Mindfulness meditation is part of Buddhist philosophy and focuses on breathing to help you become aware of your thoughts. Wright stresses that it requires a lot of hard work because it’s not in our human nature to focus on our breath and our feelings.
But once you get it right you can observe feelings you normally would not notice yet still react to. The more aware you become, the less reactive your response will be, and as a result, you’ll make better and more rational choices unaffected by anxiety.
A good (and free) way to begin practicing mindfulness is with the app Headspace, which guides you through the steps of meditation and mindfulness in just a few minutes. For someone who is in the midst of it all, Wright’s theory probably sounds like a bunch of nonsense, but if you are struggling with stress and anxiety, meditation might be worth a shot.