We are what we are

Humans – We are oblivious to what makes us tick, but in reality, we are what we are. Read on to find out what that is.

Jonathan Arenburg
Jonathan Arenburg

Jonathan is a mental health blogger, published author, and speaker. He has appeared in numerous newspapers and has been a guest on many podcasts.

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I am, we are, only human. But what does to mean to be human? Well, it’s a complicated question with even more complicated answers. Ones I haven’t all the answers to but I, nonetheless, have a few ideas.

While it must be said that I am nowhere near an expert on what makes humans tick, I do have some knowledge. As someone who’s a trained counsellor and has worked with highly behavioural and aggressive individuals for almost two decades, I’ve learned a thing or two.

Humans are indeed a complicated animal and ironically, make themselves even more complicated by their awareness. Or should I say, lack thereof. Okay, I’d argue that it’s both.

Like it or not, we are a slave to the parameters of our nature. So, in that sense, there is nothing extraordinary about us. In other words, our nature, because of need for survival, makes us feel as though we are more special than what we are. Like other animals, however, we will go through great lengths to ensure our survival. However, our fundamental difference is that we have a bionic ego that drives a lot of what we do. That is to say, we have a sophisticated prefrontal cortex; the lump of gray matter sitting just the other side of our foreheads, responsible for complex decision-making, impulse control, and reasoning. Perhaps it’s why we’re top of the food chain?

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Whilst we run around competing against one another, often in the form of games, we are oblivious to the fact that it is driven by a need to overtake others. It is in fact a product of our ancestry. Or to be more specific, it’s our nature.

” I just can’t shut off my brain at night.”

Take play and children for example. We see two kids roughhousing and we think, “Stop it! You’re going to hurt one another.” While there is a chance someone could get injured, its purpose is more than what it seems.

Play prepared ancient peoples to fight for survival and helping them to learn boundaries. If for instance, one participant went too far by hurting the other, they adjusted their play accordingly. This was to ensure that no one got hurt a second time. After all, you need everyone in your tribe, to help ensure its survival. Knowing what force to apply in a fight was an essential tool. “I know I must potentially inflict more pain in real danger than when at play.” Skill-building in regards to survival was imperative in order to increase its odds.

In modern times, this would be used as, let’s say, an adult figure, to teach boundaries for children. Not only could it set boundaries, but it could even reinforce empathy by adding a moral lesson. “Say you’re sorry.” And thirdly, play helps us feel what “feeling bad” feels like. In other words, it gives us opportunity to identify and gradually learn what others’ experience is important.

Rough and tumble play helps with setting boundaries

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The impacts on mental health

According to Dr. Robert Sapolsky, a neuroendocrinology researcher and professor of biology at Stanford University, the brain is adaptive. That is to say, some of its more ancient regions haven’t evolved to build new neuro-structures to cope with our modern world. In other words, the fight, flight, freeze, reaction that one experiences when anxious today is really old.

What’s more, it still responds the same way it would have if it were being chased by a lion thousands of years ago. To put it simply, the old parts are not upgraded to combat modern scenarios. However, it’s adaptive in the sense that a healthy frontal lobe can regulate the older parts better.

So, the major problem when an old brain region meets the modern world is – at least for many – anxiety. Essentially, the modern human is subjected to non-stop worry and stress, whereas the ancient human would experience anxiety most often when it was in danger.

Just think about the sure amount of people you know who say, ” I just can’t shut off my brain at night.” I think it’s fair to say that this is rather common in a world that never seems to relent. Back in the day though, once the danger passed, so too did the stress and with it, a shutting down of the need to run or fight.

Today, however, it’s as though modern times snapped off the switch that controls our torment. Doesn’t it feel to you like it’s malfunctioning? Always on, and therefore broken?

So, there you have it, we are what we are. Our neurobiology and neurochemistry run the show. Only our bigger brains, when interacting with the older fight or flight regions, allow us to overthink and worry about it – all the time. Below are 5 ways to alleviate your anxiety.

Or listen to the audio version of this post, 5 ways to max your mental health

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we are what we are – Copyright, 2022

Jonathan Arenburg

Jonathan Arenburg is a mental health blogger, S speaker, writer, and published author; He is also the host of the mental wellness podcast, #thewellnesstalksHe has also appeared in the i'Mpossible's Lemonade Stand III. He has also been a contributing writer for Mental health talk, a column in his local paper. In addition, he has also written for the mental health advocacy organization; Sick Not Weak.Jonathan has also appeared on several mental health-related podcasts Including: A New Dawn, The Depression Files, Books and Authors, and Men Are Nuts. Since being put off work because of PTSD, Jonathan has dedicated his time to his mental wellness journey while helping others along the way.Educated as an addictions' counsellor, he has dedicated most of his professional life of eighteen years, working with those who have intellectual disabilities, behavioural challenges, and mental illness.He has also spent fifteen years in the volunteer fire service helping his community.His new book (2021), “The Road To Mental Wellness,” goes into detail about his life-long battle with depression, anxiety and more recently, PTSD. In it, he hopes to provide insight on how mental illness cultivates over a lifetime and, if not recognized and treated, how it impacts the entirety of one's life; right from childhood into the adult years. Jonathan lives with his two children in Nova Scotia, Canada.

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