Opposable thumbs are pretty cool, right? Okay, so maybe not cool in a modern sense, but I’m definitely grateful that I have them. When it comes to being able to turn handles and carry stuff, evolution definitely earned a high five when it figured out the thumb thing. And kudos to it for replacing thick hair with goose bumps (the ‘facts’ you find on the Internet…) as a means to keeping warm. A lot of – well I guess all of – what we are today is thanks to how we’ve learned to survive in the past.
It’s not just our physical selves that are evolving, though, is it? The plethora of emotions we feel everyday have grown to be because of some evolutionary need or advantage.
This idea was first presented to me by a counsellor who was trying to help me understand anxiety. I remember her explaining severe anxiety as a kind of hangover from days when humans needed to be a lot more alert to stay alive. You know, like in the days before things that could run you over or kill you had friendly horns they could beep to stop you walking in front of them. She explained to me that anxiety was a safety mechanism that we all needed and that mine was just oversensitive. (Hypersensitive even, at that time, since it concerned itself predominately with the notion that electrical devices that you could clearly see were off, were in fact on.)
Imagine, then, the consternation that cavewoman Helen would feel if she were to know that the anxiety that kept her alive and kicking is one of the biggest headaches for modern-day Helen. I’d imagine she’d want that 21st century Helen be a bit more accepting of anxiety, a bit more welcoming.
So, perhaps it’s time to hear the anxiety out. You know, at least be civil. From time to time, it does a good job. I know, I know, it’s hard to admit, but it’s a little unfair to say anxiety is always in the wrong. Let’s face it, thanks to anxiety, I always have a well-stocked to-do list that’s rarely missing anything. Thanks to anxiety I’ve only paid my credit card bill late once in 12 years. Thanks to anxiety, I’m almost never late. It has to be said: anxiety has its uses.
Like all the ugly feelings out there – jealousy, sadness, envy, or fear -anxiety does have another purpose than just making us miserable. For sure, all too often, my anxiety is overzealous, unhelpful, and a giant pain in the butt. However, it would be fallacy to think that because it’s often wrong, it’s always wrong. So maybe it’s time to cut anxiety, or fear, or whatever else is holding us back, a little slack. Just a little. Just enough to aid understanding and coping. Just enough to use those well-evolved thumbs to get stuff done.
So, anxiety. Do we have a deal? I’ll be a little more forgiving of you if you’ll let me take a few more risks? I’ll be okay with you making me double lock the front door when I run to the post office if you’ll forgive me not checking the oven that’s been off for the last forty-eight hours. Sound okay? I’m game if you are…