Feeling bad? Become your own 'emotions detecive' with these 3 life-changing questions
Do you feel safe? One of our most important human needs is for security. If we don't feel safe, that sense of danger will grab our attention and send us some powerful, instinctive urges to take action.
If there were bombs dropping outside your window right now, it's a fair bet he would not be calmly reading this article. Strong emotions would be pressing your adrenaline button and you would have a feeling you want to run away, strike out or even keep very still and quiet.
All of these are survival responses, fight, flight and freeze, and they are so powerful that they kick in before you have a chance to think.
And these instincts have served us so well that we have evolved over millions of years from ape-like creatures to high functioning human beings.
But often, it's not an immediate emergency or life-threatening situation which is pressing our anxiety button, but more subtle day-to-day situations which keep us edgy, down or depressed, robbing us of our inner peace.
Something in our world is not working and, subconsciously, our older, wiser self knows what it is. The anxious feelings are designed to prompt us to do something about this situation and make some changes. Often it’s about our safety.
Perhaps you don't feel safe work? You are being bullied by a micro-managing boss or undermined by a jealous workmate. Or perhaps you fear you might lose your job altogether, with all the scary implications for not having enough money to pay the mortgage or rent and keep a roof over your head.
There may be something actually dangerous about the work you do; you're a police person, a soldier or a nightclub bouncer.
If you had a traumatic experience in the past, you might be feeling unsafe in the here and now, because the brain is always pattern matching. Anything current that reminds you of that old incident may spark a fight, flight or freeze reaction all over again. It's your brain's way of trying to protect you, but sometimes it overdoes it and often it gets it wrong.
Perhaps there's a problem at home with noisy neighbours or kids throwing stones at the windows. Perhaps you have an over controlling partner, there might even be violence, whether physical or verbal.
Health worries can also make you feel unsafe; unsafe in your own body or mind. Sometimes, it's not the real-life situations that create worry and anxiety but the 4am imaginings, fortune-telling and catastrophising that we can all do in the small dark hours.
A horror film in your head
If you've been blessed with a powerful imagination, you can press those fight or flight buttons just by running a horror film in your head of all the things that could go wrong.
In that case, you might need to have a grown-up chat with your frightened inner child and learn the skills of emotional management. Winston Churchill reflected in his later years:
“When I look back on all these worries, I remember the story of the old man who said on his deathbed that he had had a lot of trouble in his life, most of which had never happened”
Dr Rick Hansen tells us in his book Buddha’s Brain, our jumpy, hyper vigilant chimpanzee brain kept us safe for millions of years in the jungle, but it’s an unnecessarily uncomfortable way to live in a modern world.
So, here's the rub, if you feel down, edgy or anxious and don't know why, it might be a good time to take a closer look at your life and ask yourself some serious questions.
Do I feel safe?
Should I be make some changes in my life?
When will I start?