Do you get a bad feeling when you think about the future? Does it get worse around New Year’s, birthdays, or seasonal changes? This is natural. Our brain evolved to manage threats. Our sense of threat is heightened by the apocalyptic messages that surround us, of course. But these messages exist because we’re receptive to them. You can escape all this doomsaying when you know how your brain works.
Doomsday thinking rests on our awareness of our mortality. When you think about the future, you know you will not be a part of it someday. You are not consciously thinking that with your verbal brain, so you look for another way to explain the sense of dread that comes over you. You blame the economic system, the political system, and the health care system.
You have more power over your threatened feelings when you know where they come from. Your sophisticated verbal brain sits on top of brain structures that all mammals have in common. Your mammal brain cannot tell you what it is thinking in words because it cannot process language. It responds to the world with chemicals instead of words. When it sees a potential threat, it releases cortisol, which creates the feeling that your survival is in immediate danger.