Are you stressed out? Do you ever feel uncomfortable in life? Do you ever experience worry or anxiety? Do you have a lot of tension such as sore or tighten muscles? Do you sometimes find it hard to relax?
Most people would come to the conclusion that these symptoms are due to more responsibilities and working harder in today’s society. What do you think? Do you think that we actually work harder today than we did thirty years ago?
Now certainly there are some aspects of modern living which are stressful. But a lot of the stress of modern living is really artificially created and in a lot of cases, it is completely unnecessary. If we can understand how and why stress is artificially created then we can RELAX!
The stress response is often called the “fight or flight” response. It mostly begins with a mental recognition of some stimulus, so for example you see a tiger coming at you. It then becomes an emotional response. As your brain figures out that this is a potential threat, it begins triggering this hormonal response (adrenalin to flood your body) and prepares you to flight or fight. At this time it becomes a physiological response where you quite literally have all of the blood rushing into the center of the body, your heart starts pumping rapidly, adrenaline is rushing so you get a lot of energy quickly, your digestive processes slowed and body prepares for you to either run away or fight that tiger back.
If stress is a “fight or flight” response, it makes the question “what exactly are we trying to run away from?” or “what exactly are we trying to fight?” Let’s think about it for a second. In modern society, how often are we actually in physical danger of being physically harmed?
The truth is that modern living has really done away with a lot of the threats of physical harm that people have experienced previously. In the middle ages (1500), the life expectancy was only 25 years old. By 1700, the life expectancy climbed up to 35 years and to 40 by the 1800. In the 1900, life expectancy reached 50 and now, it is 78. In just 500 year, our life expectancy has more than tripled. So is it really realistic to think that we live in a more dangerous society now than we did 500 years ago? And consider what men had to go through in prehistoric times when starvation, disease, wild animals, and poor weather was threatening their life almost on a daily basis. These days they have documentaries and educational shows like “Man vs.Wild” and “Survival” which all just kind of point out how far removed our modern society is from the threats that people lived with, even just 100 or 500 years ago. And these shows point out that we are so far removed from those threats that most people wouldn’t be able to survive in the wild.
And do people really work harder today than they did thirty years ago? Thanks to information from the Department of Interiors, we can actually see how many hours a week people were working all the way back to 1830. In 1830, people worked an average of 69.1 hours of work per week. By 1880 that had dropped down to 60.7 hours, 1910 was 57 hours, and 1933 to 44 hours a week. Today, we are down to the 40 hour standard work week.
It is also good to point out how difficult modern work is compared to work in the past. Most of the jobs people have nowadays are dealing with information exchange so you have people working at computers a whole lot of the time. Most jobs really are sedentary but even thirty to fifty years ago, most of the jobs involved a lot of physical labor. Maybe they even involved you to be in a factory or even being around hazardous materials. So I just ask you this: Are our jobs more stressful now or were jobs more stressful fifteen years ago when they involved manual labor, or 500 years ago where they involved whether or not you were going to die.
Modern living is full of conveniences and comforts that were undreamed of even in the more recent past. Things like air conditioning and central heating, painkillers, the drive-through window and automobiles. We are actually living in a far less dangerous environment than we were previously and our life expectancy has more than tripled just in the last 500 years. Beyond that, we are actually working shorter work weeks than people did within the last thirty years. But people are still stressed out and I ask you, why do you think this is?
If we look at it with some perspective, we really are living in pretty comfortable if not cushy times. So what is it that has everyone so jacked up and stressed out? What is it that causes people to spend more than 12 billion dollars a year on antianxiety drugs like zantac?
As mentioned earlier, stress begins with a mental recognition of some stimulus or some danger. The important thing to realize here is that the whole response begins with mental recognition of some stimuli and it happens whether or not that stimulus is real or imagined. If you ever watched a horror movie, you can understand this for yourself. Even though it’s just simulating some danger, your body still has that reaction. Your muscles get tight, your heart is racing, and your body is physically preparing to fight or flight even though you are just watching a movie that isn’t real and isn’t an actual threat to your safety.
Have you ever been so pissed off where you end up hitting a wall or throwing something across the room? You probably felt better and that’s because when your body gets filled up with stress hormones, it’s preparing your body for intense physical emotion and preparing you to fight or flight. So when we are getting all jacked up with stress and we don’t have anything to run from or fight, then it just stays all bottled up in us. And then you can pound that with the fact that most people aren’t doing enough physical motion anyways (i.e. most people living sedentary lifestyles), and you get the idea that all of these stress responses that we are experiencing are just culminating and jacking us up, making us feel stressed and its really no wonder that people have trouble falling asleep at night.
So here is the truth, and this is really why modern living is so very stressful. Everyone from marketers and public relation officials to the entertainment industry and even the news media are actually going out of their way to stress you out and stimulate you. They actually want to illicit an emotional response in you so that they can encourage you to buy something, to keep watching, to influence the way you feel about someone or something, o to actually encourage you to do something. If they don’t illicit a massive emotional response, then they really don’t feel like they’re doing their job.
So entertainment and television becomes more and more violent. We women in advertisements have become more and more tantalizing. The news is reporting stories of rapes, sex scandals, murders, child abuse, you name it and the porn is becoming more and more graphic and more intense. Then there is the conspiracy theorists insisting that there is some hidden agenda to depopulate the world or that global warming is going to kill everyone.
Think about how many messages you get every single day that were created with the intention of stressing you out. It’s like a game of negative mental stimulation where they are constantly telling us that there is a tiger that’s about to get us, so we get all amped up and we get all stressed out when there is not really anything to run away from. What’s really stressing us out these days is not a physical threat in the physical universe, it’s screens. Being it a computer screen or a television screen, a movie screen or your cellphone screen. We are constantly bombarded by communications which ere intensely designed to illicit an emotional response and to excite us mentally.
More specifically, we live in an information age and it’s really information that is stressing everyone out so bad. We are constantly bombarded by information in the form of screens and printed materials. Remember that the stress response begins with mental stimulation. It begins in your head. So I ask you this: Can you “punch” information can you “run away” from information? Advertisers through screens, billboards, magazines and newspapers often will try to sell us something by scaring the heck out of us or making us feel insecure about ourselves. Pharmaceutical ads imply that we might be diseased or mentally ill. Fashion magazines imply that we are not pretty enough or we are not skinny enough. And I would challenge you to watch the news and play close attention to the stories that they choose to cover. Doesn’t it kind of seem that they intend for us to feel unsure or uncomfortable in our environment or to feel fearful about what the future might hold?
But you have to consider that to some degree, many of us enjoy the emotional responses that the media elicit in us. We enjoy going to horror films and having the bleep scared out of us or lots of people enjoy really extreme and hardcore pornography. I personally am astounded when I see an action flick, everything moving around really quickly, you have to recognize that the media understands that we like this excitement and they use it to their advantage. To this extent, we are really jacking ourselves up intentionally. I don’t know what it is about the human mind that seems to crave this excitement. One thing you cannot do is smoke crack and complain about how wired you are.
What do you think? Why do we continue to watch documentaries about “dooms days” scenarios or videos of people hurting themselves like “Jackass?” The next time you are stressed out, it’s a good idea to ask yourself if you are stressed out about something real. Is there something present in your immediate environment that’s really causing a threat or is it just a hypothetical? Something that will happen someday in the future but that isn’t really happening now?