My heart is pounding. I am slowly moving forward in the dark, trying to put as much light as possible in front of me so that I can see what is ahead of me. There’s danger ahead. Creatures are lurking there waiting to kill me.
But I am in no real danger.
I am sitting on my couch, Xbox controller in hand, playing Minecraft. It’s pretty ridiculous that I am feeling stressed out. Like seriously, it’s a damn video game. Here I am though, heart skipping at the possibility of a creeper jumping out at me and exploding.
So what is going on with me?
I believe that it involves the same mechanisms that cause people to feel anxiety or stress throughout their day. With no real threat or danger to face, our maladapted minds begin to construct life-or-death scenarios out of innocuous events. Like me now with Minecraft. The worst that can happen is the inconvenience of having to go back to the last save point were I to have my character killed. Lame. How do I fix that? How do I keep myself relaxed and just enjoy the game?
Under more recent circumstances, I would start snapping the rubber band on my wrist to fight my brain’s wanting to go that route of stress. In this case though, I’ve been wanting to better understand why. Why was I getting stressed?
A similar emotion was hitting me too in the last few days after having watched Stranger Things 2. I was finding my fight or flight response getting activated with nothing else there. The show can be freaky with tense moments, but whatever. It’s a show. I am again in no real danger. No demogorgon is going to leap out at me just as no creeper is going to blow up near me.
What drives this reaction is fascinating to me. Stress and anxiety with our evolutionary upbringing. It’s all intertwined. Seems ridiculous that it be involved in my getting worked up during Minecraft, but what little research I’ve been doing on the topic says it is. Indeed.
Driven by a lack of real challenge, I’ve started to create challenge in areas it doesn’t exist. Like in a frickin’ video game. There’s challenge there, sure, but compared to other things, it’s meager. Without challenge, we flounder. And then we stress about running through a mine in a fake world. Because your primordial brain learns that it cannot distinguish the difference. How do I break through that?
A quick answer: more real physical challenge. Getting myself to a higher form of true physical stress such as extensive weight training, or trying something like bow hunting or judo, or something similar will better train me towards being able to distinguish the difference between real and pretend stress. Just getting started with that will be the hard part. It’s just easier to run through a pretend mine while shitting my pants in fear.