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For more than 95% of their time on this lovely planet, before the advent of agriculture some 10.000 years or so ago, our human ancestors lived as hunter-gatherers in small hordes. That’s a lot of time to optimize the genetic make-up for a specific lifestyle, and some of our problems stem from the fact that evolutionary processes are too slow to keep up with the furious changes we are facing. For one, our stress response system is perfectly suited for life in the African savannah, and our social behavior is in harmony when surrounded by the same 100 people each day.
Fast forward a bit - and you are living in Berlin now, with close to four million people, plus smartphones delivering additional information overload on top of what the city provides by itself.
And we wonder why folks tend to be cranky...
Our alarm and stress center, the amygdala, nested beautifully in our emotional brain, is still calibrated for a lifestyle we only come close to during an island vacation: Rare disturbances, but if something interrupts the steady routine, it could be a hungry predator - so our system switches into fight/flight mode before we even realize what’s hitting us. The amygdala is meaning well, doing its best to keep us safe… in that Savannah context. Big city life has a way though of bombarding us with an endless stream of new impressions and people, and the amygdala gets a bit nervous. Research shows it’s pre-activated in big-towners and goes into alarm mode quicker than it does for people living in the countryside. You might think of it as a hyper-sensitive sprinkler system. The stress builds up, and at the end of the day, it only takes a little nudge to set it off.
Feeling tense doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with you - or Berlin. It’s simply what happens if millions of former hunter-gatherers decide to populate a big city.
So what can you do differently? Give that smartphone a break every now and then and make room for some relaxation slots in your action-packed agenda. Sporting activities are good to get rid of those stress hormones, and might give you a nice and welcome endorphin buzz - who needs drugs if your body is perfectly able to produce them by itself?
And whenever you can take a spare moment, just for yourself, sit back, breathe deeply, allowing some of the stress to just slip off your skin like a drop of water from a brand-new Teflon pan. Enjoy the rhythm of your belly extending each time you inhale and the sensation of letting go when you exhale, sinking deeper into relaxation with each cycle. Rediscover that inner smile that is lurking somewhere inside.
And who knows? If that feels good, you might want to take it one step further someday and treat yourself to a nice hypnotic trance… to calm the well-meaning amygdala, reconnect with your inner core and move your resources to the foreground where they belong. Your body knows the way there, and the reset will do wonders to your well-being. As a welcome side-effect, it will enhance the quality of your decision-making which is severely impaired under stress. So that you can make the right choices and steer your life according to your own objectives – instead of simply functioning and being carried away by external demands.
Remember that it’s not your fault… just built-up surplus tension that you can let go.
Have a great day. :-)