Did you know that our brains are actually hard-wired to detect danger cues over safety cues? Evolutionary psychologists explain that by being slightly more attentive to danger cues, the likelihood of survival of our ancestors was increased. For instance, if a rustle in the bush was ignored it might mean a deadly snake bite or predator attack. So being slightly more vigilant was adaptive. Because this trait/tendency was adaptive, it got passed down through their DNA to us.
It makes sense… but only to a point, right? In today’s culture there aren’t too many physical threats in our day to day lives. Rather, this tendency most often gets (over-)activated in response to cognitive, emotional, and social cues (e.g., think about how safe you feel after watching the news, doing speeches, being evaluated in an interview, etc.) … enter anxiety, stress, and mood difficulties.
So if fear is stickier than safety, how do we cope with this tendency of the mind? Well, one place to start is getting back into the PRESENT moment. Once present, we can ask ourselves “Am I in danger right now in this moment?”. If the answer is no, then try to use your senses and gratitude to help you to anchor to this moment, where you are indeed safe.
Simple things work best, like feeling the warmth of the coffee cup in our hands, smelling its aroma, and feeling the gratitude of savouring those first few sips.
Bringing gratitude and presence into our lives can feel like swimming upstream. But with practice, it can help us to slow down and appreciate that we are in fact more safe than our minds will allow us to perceive.
Check out this 5-minute gratitude practice from Mindful.org: