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Why Are We So Stressed These Days Anyways?

Statistically speaking, we’re living in the safest era on the planet, with access to food and shelter. Yet, stress levels are through the roof.

Why?

The simple answer: we weren’t designed for this life.

Let’s explore our hardwired stress response system, the one we’re born with but don’t use by design.

Stress, a physiological reaction triggered by hormones, served our ancestors well when facing cyber tooth tigers in the wilderness. The “Fight, Flight, Freeze” response, also known as the “Emotional Hijack,” kicks in—blood rushes to our limbs, our hearts race, and our focus is on vital functions, not digestion or reproduction.

Why is this crucial? We are hardwired to prioritize safety above all else. Our ancestors survived by assuming the worst, making our primal goal to stay safe.

While not delving into the complexities of human biology, three key stress response intricacies need understanding:

1. Emotional Brain Takes Over: In times of stress, the emotional brain takes control, acting swiftly without conscious thought. Imagine standing by the roadside, a car approaching. Instead of instinctively jumping aside, you wait, mentally calculating distance, speed, and options. The result? An emotional hijack.

2.Quick Onset, Quick Subsidence: Stress kicks in rapidly but subsides swiftly. For optimal performance, the body must restore and rebuild, prioritizing “less essential” functions during rest times, like digestion and reproduction.

Ever regretted something said in a meeting without understanding why? Have you blown up at your child during daycare drop-off? Likely, a stress response or emotional hijack.

But there were no saber-tooth tigers; what happened?

#1 – Our minds treat thoughts as reality.

Our brain doesn’t differentiate between thinking something is happening and it actually happening.

So, if I ask you to close your eyes and imagine biting into a juicy apple, your digestion system is stimulated, producing enzymes to start digestion, even though you’re not eating an apple.

With a staggering 60,000 daily thoughts, 80% recurring and 90% negative, our mental landscape is inundated. News and social media bombard us with graphic images, combined with empathy, triggering stress constantly.

Our brains, not wired for this information overload, struggle to process it all.

#2- Triggers are everywhere.

While there are no saber-tooth tigers on our streets or in our meetings, our brains perceive more triggers than ever because psychological and social threats are treated the same as physical threats. Our modern life at work especially relies on relationships.

The SCARF acronym illustrates these motivations:

S – Status: The perception of one’s relative importance to others.

C – Certainty: The desire for predictability and assurance in situations.

A – Autonomy: The need for control over one’s own decisions and actions.

R – Relatedness: The sense of connection, belonging, and safety in social environments.

F – Fairness: The perception of fair exchanges and treatment.

So any time we perceive that any of these factors are under risk (ex: perceived incompetence, unfair treatment, decision overwrite), they feel to us at threats equivalent to physical dangers.

Therefore your meetings, daycare drop offs or commute to work don’t always go smoothly!

Our world moves fast. Change is constant, always keeping our “certainty” desire on its toes.

#3 Limited Rest & Recovery

Our society glorifies the hustle culture. “Busy” is worn as a badge of honor. And individuals and companies are obsessed with “productivity”, and output.

Our minds struggle to shut off. We wind it up the whole day with the constant hit of dopamine from notifications. And when we are ready to rest, it’s hard for the mind to wind down.

Many people skip vacations or work through them. All of that results in our nervous systems being constantly dysregulated. Because, if you remember, from how our stress response is wired, we are supposed to have short bursts of stress and looong periods to rest & digest. Not the opposite!

So,if your mother, mother-in-law, father, uncle, aunt, or anyone else ever sarcastically asks, “Well, we somehow did it all in the old days. And we didn’t even have dishwashers,” I hope you calmy continue drinking your wine, casually smile at them and know that you’re not doing anything wrong.

We’re simply not using the system the way it was designed.

Now that we understand where stress comes from, in the next part, we’ll delve into two powerful frameworks on how to consider your resilience toolbox.


Hi, I’m Nataliya Becker

I’m an Executive Coach & Team Facilitator. I work with growth-seeking leaders and their teams in the throws of change. Using my “nerdy mind with a hippy heart,” I bring a diverse range of analytical and intuitive approaches to 1:1 coaching, team facilitation, bespoke retreats, and leadership programming.

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