As a staunch believer in evolution, I’m forever reminding clients that we’re frail, fragile beings and far from the wunderkind we think we are or would love to be, especially emotionally. Speaking to these points, here’s what psychiatrist and trauma specialist Dr. Arash Javankakht has to say in “To live your best life, live the life you evolved for” (The Conversation, https://www.cnn.com/2019/02/04/health/life-you-evolved-for-partner/index.html, accessed 2/5/19).
“I often tell my patients and students that to understand how fear works in us, we have to see it in the context where it evolved. Ten thousand years ago, if another human frowned at us, chances were high one of us would be dead in a couple of minutes. In the tribal life of our ancestors, if other tribe members did not like you, you would be dead, or exiled and dead…Biological evolution is very slow, but civilization, culture, society, and technology evolve relatively fast. It takes around a million years for evolutionary change to happen in a species, and people have been around for about 200,000 years.”
He explains that our bodies evolved to eat when we saw food, we were made to search for miles and expend energy to obtain it, our “stomachs also had to work hard for it” because it wasn’t easily digestible, and our best bets food-wise were high in calories to ensure survival in lean times. He reminds us that “…now, food is just a few feet away, and we can easily consume thousands of calories in one serving. Fatty food, which required days and miles of hunting and scavenging to acquire, is now right there in the fridge or at the McDonald's. It is like giving full fridge privileges to your Labrador.”
He goes on to describe how we’re geared to react to fear. “Back when we had regular exposure to fear, fear was a normal part of life. Predators were always ready to munch on us, and other tribes or our tribe mates were ready to take over our food or stone hammer. The fear circuitry got regularly stimulated. Paired with regular intense physical activity, the adrenergic system, which increased activity causes fight-flight responses, would get a good share of workout…Our current life is usually too safe, and we feel anxious and terrified about things which may be important but really do not threaten our life or integrity, such as a work meeting, going to a party or taking an exam.”
The best way to respond to our evolutionary state is to recognize that we are often fighting our nature when we try to respond in different ways than we’re programmed to do. First and foremost, we must have compassion for our failures and pride in our successes and near successes. We need to tell ourselves repeatedly that it’s hard to fight evolution. We also will benefit from working around who we’ve evolved to be by consciously setting up our intentions and lives to make us more like who we want to be. There’s evolution, of course, but there’s also conscientiousness and free will to change.”
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