Pedro Arantes

The Evolution of Anxiety

The Delayed Return Environment causes chronic anxiety and stress because our brain was designed to live in an Immediate Return Environment.
Zettelkasten,May 22, 2020 (updated at March 08, 2021)

The Evolution of Anxiety


  • Currently, humans are living in what researchers call a Delayed Return Environment.

    • We worry about problems that won't be solved immediately by our actions - we work today to get a paycheck in a few week, for instance.
  • The Delayed Return Environment causes chronic anxiety and stress because our brain was designed to live in an Immediate Return Environment.

    • Our brain has roughly the same size as our ancestors of two hundred thousand years ago.
    • On the other side, the society became mostly Delayed Return Environment about 500 years ago, which is a very small window of time to our brain to evolve.
  • The Immediate Return Environment creates some stress and anxiety. It was necessary to help our ancestors (and some wild animals) to survive.

    • A lion appear -> you fell stressed -> you run away to survive -> the stress is relieved.
  • Nowadays, we still expect the same process, except that the relived part doesn't occur immediately.

    • We imagine our future -> we need money to live well -> we study to get a good job -> but we don't get a job (and money) immediately. This causes chronic stress and anxiety because it isn't relieved.
  • Living and Delayed Return Environment means you're surrounded by uncertainty. We can do two things to minimize it:

    1. Measure something. When we measure something, we transform the unknown quantity and make it known, and you became more certain of something.
      • For instance, if you're looking for a job, count how many companies you sent your resume.
    2. Shift your worry. Instead worring about a long-term problem, focus on a daily routine that will solve your problem.
      • Instead of worrying about living longer, focus on doing some exercises today.


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