We all have things or situations that we’re a little scared of. Mine seem to go through phases. At one point the dentist, then flying, then the dentist again,...
Emotions can be pretty heavy things and we often underestimate their power and the affect they have on our lives. Particularly the ones that we view negatively, such as anger, jealousy, anxiety or fear. You can guarantee that most women feel like Britney circa ‘2007 on a weekly basis, but it’s something we rarely talk about or mention to anyone outside of our tightest friendship group, as it’s just so difficult to explain. Because sometimes you’ll cry for no reason, you’ll make up a little scenario in your head about your partner which you know is crazy, but still can’t stop thinking about and sometimes you’ll just feel intense fear or anxiety and not know why. But what if there was an actual scientific explanation for our crazy behaviour? Or something that our ancestors and good old evolution could explain away? Spoiler alert: there is.
Thanks to the theory of evolution, there are scientific explanations which we can use to rationalise and help explain some of our behaviours that err on the more crazy side. Which could be a winner when you’re trying to explain away the big argument you caused last week.
So read on to find out about all of those magical things going on in your body that give you an excuse to consume an entire stuffed crust every third week of the month. You’re welcome.
The symptom: Most of us know jealousy as a horrible emotion that arises when we feel like an important relationship is threatened by a rival. This could be with a friend, a work colleague or a family member but is more likely to come up with a partner. Jealousy is a parasite on relationships, feeding on fears and manifesting itself in arguments and accusations. Unfortunately, once it sets in it can be hard to shake. So why are the happiest relationships and the most normal of people sometimes victim to all of the jealousy? Let’s look at the theory.
Firstly, it’s important to note that even animals such as Chimps and Elephants exhibit signs of jealousy. As a Professor at the Psychology Emeritus explains, “Jealousy is an anticipatory emotion. It seeks to prevent loss. Jealousy causes us to take precautionary measures.” According to Psychology Today, the logic of evolutionary psychology behind jealousy is that men and women both experience it differently, depending on what was perceived as their biggest threat to suvival in evolutionary history. This meant that for men, jealousy was associated with the threat of uncertain paternity. Long before the times of paternity tests and Jeremy Kyle, jealousy served the purpose of ensuring that the man’s mate didn’t stray. Therefore making sure that he didn’t waste time or resource in bringing up another man’s child, which would in turn, leave his own genetics at a dead-end. In women, jealousy arose from the threat of loss and how she would survive and manage to raise her children if she lost her mate to another woman. In both causes therefore, jealousy was effective in keeping a mate from straying, as having a partner ensured a greater chance of survival and reproduction, to stop the human race from dying out. So that’s why you get jealous when you perceive a girl looking at your boyfriend in Tescos, or when he likes a photo of another girl on Instagram. And while it may not be great, or useful, when both sexes are now equally capable of raising children and protecting themselves without a mate, for our ancestors, jealousy was key to survival and unfortunately that’s why even the Beyonces of the world still experience it today.
The symptom: If you’ve ever suffered with anxiety or panic attacks, a common side effect of the debilitating disorder, you’ll know that it’s an awful experience. To have your body turn on itself, so that you struggle to breathe and feel your chest grow tight or your head swim, can leave you feeling out of control and just a little bit mental, especially when your Doctor tells you that there’s nothing physically wrong. But thankfully, there is an explanation, it’s all in the fight or flight okay.
Firstly, it’s important to note that anxiety is not the same as fear. Fear is a response to an immediate threat i.e. seeing a Lion and fearing that you might be eaten, whereas anxiety is the expectation of a future threat, usually perceived when you think about yourself in a certain situation. The evolutionary explanation for anxiety is that it serves the purpose of helping us to feel more vigilant and avoid situations that could potentially pose a threat. Worrying about danger forces us to take fewer risks, seek safety and do everything more carefully, all of which would have increased our ancestor’s rate of survival. For example, climbing up a slippery rock face could lead to a fall, so feeling anxious about being at a height, where you could fall, might reduce the amount of times you would do it and therefore reduce the risks associated with it. The scientific explanation behind the symptoms, is due to the ‘flight or fight’ response, which is similarly produced in a situation where there is something to fear. The spike in adrenaline heightens your senses and prepares you to run, the heart beat increases, to fill the body with blood ready to fight and anything unnecessary such as digestion stops. Which can be really, really inconvenient, but seems a little more approachable when we just know why it happens.
The symptom: Sometimes in that little gap between the arrival of your period you have a few mental days, otherwise known as PMS or Premenstrual Syndrome. Why schools skip over this little detail when they give the period chat, I will never know. As far as I’m concerned, it should come in big letters on the side of the Tampon box. WARNING: Your period may come with heavy bleeding and a side order of crazy. That’s not to say you don’t have perfectly valid reasons for feeling pissed off or angry in the week leading up to your period, but you might feel irrationally angry or upset too. So when you’re next crying because your next door neighbour didn’t say hello properly and you’re sure they’re mad at you, it might be time to pull out the medical book and find out what the heck is going on.
The theory: According to Therapist Amanda Moore, as many as 95 per cent of menstruating women suffer from one or more of the symptoms of PMS and between 5 and 10 per cent have symptoms severe enough to be debilitating. Not just the ‘time of the month’ then right? Scientists such as Michael Gillings, who studies molecular evolution at Macquarie University in Sydney, thinks that PMS could have a purpose. According to Gillings, women living within tribes who had an infertile partner, menstruated more frequently than women who didn’t. The “hostility” associated with PMS would provide women struggling to conceive with an advantage as they would direct their PMS at their partners, increasing the likelihood that the partnership will dissolve, leaving the woman free to find a better and more fertile mate. Other scientists have dismissed this theory as being a little too convenient, but whether PMS has an evolutionary purpose or not, there is still a science behind the symptoms. In the first two weeks of your cycle, oestrogen the ‘feel good’ hormones climb. But towards the later half, your ovaries release the pregnancy-supporting hormone progesterone. This is the hormone that raises body temperature, expands the milk ducts in the breast (hello, swollen and sore) and can also interfere with certain brain chemicals, such as mood-regulating hormone serotonin. Progesterone can also stimulate the amygdala, the part of the brain that’s tied to emotion, which explains while you can feel irritable and anxious around this time. Changes in your insulin levels also trigger food cravings, which explains why you want to eat your body weight in sweet things one week out of four. And of course, if science says it’s okay to feel crap, want to hibernate and order Dominos around this time, then it has to be, right?
So while it can be difficult to rationalise your emotions while in the throes of a fit of jealousy or that ‘time of the month’ understanding the reasons behind why our emotions make us feel a little bit mental, is the first step to reducing the stigma attached to them. Because we have to start talking about this stuff and understanding it more, if we’re ever to normalize it and create more sympathy for those who suffer with a level that is more than the norm. So next time you’re feeling a little cray and not in a good way, take a deep breath and remind yourself that there’s science behind it and you can’t argue with science. And trust us, you’re doing just fine as you are.
Beth is a Writer and Digital Marketer who founded The Full Agenda as a place to talk about the things that kept her and her friends up at night. Currently working as a Marketing consultant to various SMEs she is a big fan of the startup market and loves technology, apps and anything social media related. When not obsessively checking Google Analytics, she can be found reading, writing or relaxing with a glass of Prosecco.
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