In an official government survey, it was found that 1 in 3 absences at work were due to stress and anxiety

An effective strategy?

Anxiety is a feeling which has evolved as an effective strategy for the imagination to fill the gaps, thus enabling us to be a few steps ahead of the game when it comes to being prepared for a potentially dangerous situation.

Our stone age ancestors learnt to use their imagination, to avoid any risks which may have been lethal. For example, if they heard a noise in the bushes, or saw some movement, it could be a predator and it was safer to be anxious, to fear the worst and run or hide. Because those who stayed, relaxed, didn’t worry and were not on their guard, might not have lived to tell the tale or to pass their genes down to future generations.

As a result of this effective survival strategy, we seem to have evolved into creatures who are often fear driven and although in our modern ‘civilised’ culture, we don’t normally have to look out for predators in the bushes , there is usually something that we can find to be anxious about. Indeed most living creatures are cautious and fearful as a survival mechanism.

The adrenalin released by the body as a result of fear, is useful because it gives us an energy boost and allows us to think quickly when we need to get out of a dangerous situation. This is what Walter Cannon described as “Fight or Flight response.” The problems come when we have this adrenaline surge frequently and are not in a situation where we would need to run to make use of the adrenaline, this affects the nervous system and creates health problems. The challenge is to use this fear to keep safe and not to allow our fears get out of proportion to the situation. We don’t need to dwell on fears, we don’t want them to become a problem or to control us.

The difference between fear and anxiety, is that fear can be a useful reaction to a potentially dangerous situation, whereas anxiety is not necssarily useful, it is more to do with  ruminating pointlessly on real or imagined dangers.

“The only thing we have to fear…is fear itself”- Franklyn D. Roosevelt

“If you have fear of some pain or suffering, you should examine whether there is anything you can do about it. If you can, there is no need to worry about it, if you cannot do anything there is also no need to worry.”- Dalai Lama


The good news is, science demonstrates that we can use meditation and mindfulness to help prevent anxiety from escalating out of control.

Anxiety research

mindfulness intervention research on anxiety

The scientist Ivan Pavlov’s experiments on fear and conditioned response, have shown that the mind can be forged into a fear response, through repeatedly associating fear with a certain action or thing.

Thus we can create the opposite of this, by effectively training the mind to remain calm and focused through mindfulness.

Scientists have found that people who worry have greater reactivity in a part of the brain called the Amygdala, which triggers fear.

Neuroscientists at Stanford University found that people who practised mindfulness meditation for eight weeks, were able to control the reactivity of this area. Other researchers from Harvard University have found that mindfulness can physically reduce the number of neurons in this fear triggering part of the brain.

Anchor in a Stormy sea

We can use mindfulness as an anchor in the stormy sea of worries that gush through our mind. The worries may well still be there, but we will be standing firm and feeling more in control. With a calmer mind we will be more able to identify the useless fears and let go of them. The real fears can be useful warnings, prompting us to make the necessary preparations in order to avoid what we fear, or to deal with it face on, with a clear and calm mind.