It’s incredible that we live in the most technologically advanced age that humans have ever experienced yet we mostly behave as if we’re still lurking somewhere in the depths of the Stone Age. We’re referring, of course, to stress.
We have unprecedented access to information and communication, vehicles to carry us to the other side of the planet in a few hours, space exploration and we behave as if we’re expecting a sabre toothed tiger to jump on us at every moment! You can see it in peoples’ posture, in their gestures, in their behaviour. It’s permanent, intrusive and debilitating stress.
Stress is such a dominant feature of our everyday lives that we don’t even notice its presence anymore. It’s become part of the ever-present yet virtually invisible background of our daily existence. And that’s a problem because stress really does not contribute anything useful or productive to our lives yet it demands a very price from our health and creativity.
Stress sometimes even enjoys a positive reputation, a marker of masculinity, an indicator of aggressive, dominant, winning behaviour. There are many places – and I’m sure you’ll have experience of some of them – where stress is actually encouraged, where stress is recognised as a sign of being serious and focused. This is the source of so much neurosis and dysfunctional behaviour that we need to wake up and start dealing with the stress response right now. Because stress simply isn’t working.
The human stress response evolved to give us a competitive edge in threatening situations, a chemical rush to help us confront danger or escape. It’s a three minute survival adaptation to boost our chances overcoming the odds. It comes at a price and one of the side effects is to narrow our range of vision so that we can focus on the threat. But our distant ancestors couldn’t afford to be deprived of their senses on the open plains of Africa. So they evolved techniques to switch off the stress response as soon as the danger had passed. They relaxed their shoulders and exhaled powerfully. This restored normal functioning, lowered blood pressure, opened up their awareness to the environment around them, restored normal digestion, flushed out the adrenaline and cortisol that was no longer necessary. In other words they calmed down and returned to optimal functioning.
This is when creativity flourishes and, since most stressful situations are absolutely not life-threatening, creativity is a valuable asset to help us deal with problems. So take a deep breath, relax those shoulders, breathe out and discover what it’s like to be human. Again.
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