Surviving ... or thriving?
Clients living with anxiety often talk to me with regret or guiltabout the things they usually enjoy, but can’t get in the mood for: creativity, intimacy, being active, reading a new book. They feel bad that they’re not enjoying these supposedly easy mood-enhancers, and that’s adding to their anxiety.
If we’re feeling anxious, or depressed, our brain is most likely in survive mode … and will have a very different set of priorities to when it’s in thrive mode. In survive mode our brain will be prioritising our survival as individuals. It will seek to keep our world small, so we can keep an eye on everything in it. It will encourage repetitive behaviour: ‘I checked I’d locked the back door ten times yesterday and I’m here to tell the tale, so hey! I’ll check it eleven times today, just to be extra safe!’ Our body will respond by flooding our system with stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol to maintain alertness.
In thrive mode, our brain will be looking to ensure our survival as a species … and a successful species will be creative, be inquisitive, be social, will reproduce. In thrive mode the body responds by releasing ‘reward’ chemicals that encourage these behaviours: serotonin, dopamine, endorphins etc.
If you’re feeling bad about the things you feel you should be up for, ask yourself this question: ‘Would I want to play the piano/kick a football/instigate snuggly time … if there was a tiger outside?’ Boom … there’s your answer. Unfortunately survive mode was only intended for short periods of danger, and staying in it for too long can lead us to become a kind of shorthand version of ourselves; the us that gets important stuff done will manage to keep going, but the fun, sociable, creative us will have been packed away for safer times.
We may need help getting back into thrive mode, but understanding what’s going on in our heads means we can stop beating ourselves up right now. Sometimes ‘faking it’ a little – giving ourselves a nudge to do something we enjoy, even though we’re not feeling it at the moment, can be enough to kick start feelgood hormone flow and improve our mood – encouraging us to maintain those positive changes going forward.
(PS thanks to Ethel the cavapoo for the mood shots there)