One of the most important ways in which people differ from one another is whether they respond more strongly to threats or to rewards. It seems to be something that is hard-wired into the brain, and is partly genetic. There is evidence that this is the neural basis for the personality dimension of ‘neuroticism’.
It seems that ‘relief’, (i.e. bad things not happening) has the same effect on the brain as good things happening. Equally, good things not happening (frustration or disappointment) has the same effect as bad things happening.
This personality dimension is very important in politics, and there is recent evidence that people with conservative attitudes tend to be these are more responsive to threat than to reward. For them, life is a matter of ‘dodging the bullets’.
Some recent research suggests that people’s relative responsiveness to threats and rewards also relates to whether they focus on solving problems.
It seems likely that this is a two-way relationship. Problem solving helps to reduce people’s anxiety in the face of threat. Equally, I would expect that anxiety makes it hard to continue to solve problems in practical way. Anxiety can make people just freeze.
But problem solving may be only one of a range of things that counter-balance the tendency to respond to threat with anxiety and worry. Professor Chris Cook at the University of Durham has recently argued that prayer may be an alternative to anxiety. Faced with threats, people have a choice about whether to worry about them or to pray about them.
Worry tends to be bad for health. Prayer and other spiritual practices tend to be good for health. Prayer is the better alternative of the two. My suggestion is that prayer, like problem solving, may be an alternative to getting anxious in the face of threat.