Anxiety is like a vinyl record with a stuck needle. The bad feeling repeats – despite your best intentions. When you know how this happens, you can get unstuck.
Anxiety is a surge of cortisol, the chemical that helped our ancestors escape urgent threats. Consciously, you know you’re not being chased by a predator, but your brain defines threats in a quirky way. It responds to whatever hurt you in the past because cortisol paves neural pathways. You don’t have to touch a hot flame twice because the first time builds a pathway that turns it on in time to warn you.
Cortisol helped our ancestors survive in a dangerous world. Today, we are gloriously free from plagues and famines, so we build cortisol pathways from other experiences. If you felt left out in high school, that’s the danger your brain is alert for. When you see a risk of being left out, your brain releases cortisol and a full-body sense of alarm is activated. You are sure you’re in danger because that’s the job cortisol evolved to do.