The Toughness Conundrum
“Tough times never last, but tough people do.”
The above quote and others like it are quotes I have seen repeated over and over again in the current climate. Prescribed as if it is a magic pill we can use to remedy the unprecedented situation we have all been forced into. The truth is that it can do the opposite, exacerbating our suffering and destroying our minds.
Our minds are fragile things, and an untrained mind is often unable to deal with the demands our current way of living places on us. The way our societies here in the developed world are structured currently have made our lives safer and more comfortable. The vast majority of us no longer need to worry about dying from starvation. We no longer need to worry about external threats from animal attacks or other people wanting what we have. Our ancestors on the African savannah, on the other hand, faced real existential threats, and their minds developed mechanisms like anxiety and stress to take these threats seriously. The humans who didn’t have these mechanisms in place died off because they didn’t feel fear and a need to protect themselves when they heard a noise in the bush, they got eaten by the tiger waiting for them there. Those humans that heard the sound in the bush and ran off out of fear and anxiety survived to breed; and we humans of today are their direct descendants. It is no surprise that humans today have highly honed anxiety switches that switch on and off without warning.
The threats we face today are usually not existential, but these triggers in our minds do not know the difference. Whether you fear a wild animal or fear having no work to go back to when this is over, you will get the same fight and flight response either way. As these existential threats are mostly non-existent any longer, our sensors have shifted. We no longer look for threats to our lives; we now look for threats to our comfort and our way of life. Our anxiety and stress triggers are switched on as soon as we feel challenged in any way that will take us out of our comfort zone.
Mental processes like anxiety and stress are analogous to fire alarms. They are there to warn of a potential danger to us, and our judgement and aversion to this feeling cause us to suffer. We feel guilty and bad for feeling anxious as we think that we should be tougher. This thought process can make things even worse for us.
Try dealing with your mental health with compassion, acceptance and love. Accept that it is an evolved part of you like your feeling of hunger or thirst is and try understanding what message it is giving you. This is how we develop real resilience and toughness in a universe that we have very little control over.