For the majority of human history, our stress came from threats like being chased by predators and hunting for food to survive. Of course, in our modern comfortable society, there are many ways in which we could use a little more of the grit of our ancestors.
In most cases, our stressors these days are tamer and rarely relate to our immediate survival. Your iPhone screen cracking again? First World problem.
But there is one layer of our modern problems that I believe, in some ways, is worse today: Over the long term, our chronic stressors are turning out to be the demise of our health. The rat race of today, with its deadlines, time stressors, 24-hour news cycle, and poor sleep is severely damaging our well-being.
Over time, humans have adapted something called conserved transcriptional response to adversity (CTRA), a type of gene expression that's associated with inflammation and low immunity. So if you were being chased by a predator, CTRA allowed for some helpful short-term benefits, such as increased healing, physical recovery, and the increased likelihood of your survival.
But in ancient times, humans weren't chased by that saber-toothed tiger constantly. The stressful times would eventually calm down and allow the body to recuperate.
Now, with our modern mental and emotional stressors rarely turn off, our body constantly thinks it's being chased by a tiger. As a result, long-term activation of our brain's CTRA is contributing to chronic inflammation and increasing the risk of health problems.
Our emotional stress is a tiger chase that never ends, and it's wearing on our brains and bodies.