Article by Dawn Walton ~ Published in the Summer 2014 issue of Perception ~ The Cognitive Hypnotherapy Review.
You come round a particular large boulder and are confronted with a huge sabre-toothed tiger. Your fellow cavemen are some way behind you so you’re on your own. What are you going to do? If you take time to evaluate your situation, to work out if you have the right spear or if the land is suitable for running on, you will find you look down and the sabre-toothed tiger is chewing on your leg. Instead what you need to do is react instantly. There is no time to think. Thinking will hinder your survival. You need an instant physical response that will give you the best chance of surviving either by fighting the tiger, running away from it or just freezing on the spot and hoping it doesn’t notice.
Your subconscious gets you ready. It floods your body with adrenalin. Adrenalin is like a super drug that stops you feeling pain, gives you an energy boost and suppresses any viruses that are in your system. Loaded with adrenalin your heart rate increases, breath shortens and now you are ready to react. Years of conditioning and programming give you a gut instinct that gives you the best chance of surviving. You run away and live to tell the tale to the clan around a fire later on.
As you read the story of our caveman was anything familiar? Maybe the heart racing? The shortness of breath? These days we would call this anxiety or panic but it is actually a basic survival technique employed by the brain to keep you safe and well. The catch is that it is designed to protect you from being hurt by a predator and you might have noticed that there are no real predators these days. Yet many of us will experience fear and anxiety in our everyday lives. Sometimes that fear becomes so strong about something seemingly irrational that we label it a phobia.
Let’s take fear of spiders as an example. Did you know the number one and two phobias in the UK are spiders and snakes? Yet there are no venomous spiders and most people won’t see a snake in the wild in their lifetime. I was talking to someone the other day and explaining fear and I asked, as I often do, if they or someone they knew was afraid of spiders. Of course he said yes. We all know someone who is afraid of spiders. I asked him if that person changed when there was a spider in the room. He laughed and said yes, his friend turned into a ‘big girl’. His friend turns into an emotional wreck in the presence of the spider, which is totally different to how he normally behaves. I then asked “If there was a sabre-toothed tiger in the room instead of the spider, would his behaviour make sense to you?” “Of course.” He replied.