The pace of our social and technological evolution has vastly outstripped our physiological and emotional evolution. It took us 200,000 years to discover electricity (almost three centuries ago). At an incredible pace, we then produced the telephone (1870’s), motor vehicles (1890’s), television (late 1920’s) computers (1960’s) and personal computers (1980). Twenty-odd years ago we developed the mobile phone. Each of these discoveries alone transformed our lives. Collectively they have transformed us into an era that was completely unimaginable to our grandparents.
We have not been able to adapt fast enough to make the biological adjustments necessary to match this technological revolution. As a result, it is having a massive impact on human society with highly significant consequences.
Yesterday we were hunters, roaming the fields of the earth focusing solely on survival. We had to exercise to hunt in order to live. We either ate dinner or were eaten by something bigger, faster and hungrier than ourselves. We ran to catch, and we ran to escape. We carried children, possessions, and primitive weapons. We ate a mixed diet of unprocessed natural foods. We were active during the day and we slept at night.
Fast forward 200,000 years to the present. Today we live largely sedentary lives. Exercise is voluntary for the majority of us. Our diets are largely processed. Due to electricity and the digital and electronic communication we stay up late into the night. Our quantity and quality of sleep has deteriorated significantly.
The challenges of our early ancestors were mainly physical and short-lived. They had to run to escape from danger or to catch their food. They had to fight to protect themselves, etc.
When faced with imminent danger our bodies release two critical hormones, adrenaline and cortisol. This allows our bodies to move into “action mode” and to mobilise the energy needed to respond vigorously.
Today our stresses are very different. Very few of the crises that we face are physical in nature. We seldom need to fight or take flight. When we do our body works beautifully. We release adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones are put to good use as our bodies respond with a burst of activity. Our system resets quickly after the incident, as designed, with no lasting consequences.
Today, however, the vast majority of stressful stimuli that we face are mental or emotional by nature, meaning that we have no need to fight or flee. Moreover, given our advanced reasoning abilities, it is often the anticipation of possible danger that triggers our physical stress response more than actual physical danger. Today, our busy day, or the thought of financial ruin, or the possible loss of our job triggers the release of the same two hormones, adrenaline and cortisol. However, we do not now run away or turn and fight with our bodies. We are therefore not using these hormones to good effect. Instead, they flood our system with chemicals that we don’t need or use. This has significant cumulative negative consequences on our physical and emotional well-being.
The sheer volume of stress that we have to cope with on a daily basis and the sleep deprivation that impairs our ability to recover between stressful days is causing more and more people to advance into the chronic stress overload realm.
This is one of the reasons that learning, understanding and developing ones Emotional Intelligence is so vitally important.