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Stone Age Minds in a Modern World

Our Minds are not Equipped to Handle Modern-Day Problems.

The world is witnessing multiple revolutions, more importantly, technological, cultural, and scientific. However, it is the technological revolution that is having the most significant impact on our lives. The way we live, think, work, communicate, and interact is being transformed. In many aspects, the world is becoming a better place.

We are healthier, wealthier, more educated, and living longer and more comfortably. Yet, our minds have not evolved to adapt to the modern age, leading to numerous mental and psychological challenges.

Today, widespread mental stress, psychological distress, loneliness, boredom, and mental illnesses like depression and anxiety profoundly affect our lives. As a result, there is a noticeable increase in mental suffering, aggression, anger, and unhappiness among the masses. The basic reason behind these mental challenges is that the human mind is not equipped to handle modern-day problems.

Signs of a society under stress are all around us. Mental stress is becoming endemic in the modern world. Many life situations may trigger a stress response in the body, such as unfriendly or hostile working conditions, work overload, financial difficulties, and relationship problems within one’s family or with a boss or colleagues. A majority of us, from to time, suffer from stress, though its severity varies from individual to individual.

Stress causes a wide range of physical changes in the body. It generally increases heart rate and may accelerate or depress breathing. While stress itself is not an illness, if left unchecked, it can contribute to major health problems such as high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, and diabetes. Chronic stress weakens the immune system and increases the risk of developing depression and anxiety.

Under stressful conditions, the mind becomes agitated, and thoughts may become obsessive, triggering a cascade of hormones, including cortisol, the stress hormone secreted by the adrenal gland, located above the kidneys. Increased cortisol levels in the blood contribute to serious health problems, such as heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, and mental disorders like depression and anxiety.

Despite our best efforts, we cannot avoid troubling situations in life. External events are beyond our control, but the real problem begins when we get bogged down by negative thoughts. One of the biggest challenges we face is controlling those thoughts. Unless we learn to manage our negative thoughts, they could become catastrophic for our health.

Mental illnesses like depression, anxiety, and attention deficit disorder may often start with our inability to manage toxic and distressing thoughts. Nearly 15% of people in India suffer from various mental disorders, and many do not seek professional help because they are unaware that they need medical intervention. Depression, one of the most prominent mental problems worldwide, pushes, in extreme cases, some of the sufferers to end their lives. We are all potentially vulnerable to experiencing adversities that can lead to emotional and psychological turmoil.

Our minds are highly fragile, sensitive, and vulnerable to troubling times, making it challenging to manage our thoughts. To understand why our mind, act the way it does, we need to look at our evolutionary history. Humans first evolved on the African savannah around 2.5 million years ago. Life then was short and fragile, with living conditions extremely dangerous.

Primitive humans, known as hunter-gatherers, relied heavily on their instincts to survive adverse conditions. Our ancestors spent over 99% of our species’ evolutionary history living as hunter-gatherers, constantly under threat from predators, harsh weather, and natural disasters. Fear and aggression became deeply embedded in their collective psyche—and ours.

The kind of ubiquitous fear experienced by hunter-gatherers is unknown in our contemporary world. However, fear remains deeply embedded in our psyche, often triggering behavior and actions based on imaginary threats. Modern humans may suffer from anxiety, a negative emotional state triggered by real or imaginary threats.

For example, many students experience anxiety due to the anticipated threat of failure in exams. Similarly, social anxiety stems from an underlying fear of being socially awkward or disliked.

Despite significant changes in our living conditions, our brains have not adapted to the new environment. Every real and imaginary threat is perceived as if we are still hunter-gatherers. Fear is deeply embedded in our unconscious mind because human evolution is an extremely slow process. Modernity—a mere blip on the evolutionary timeline—has not given our brains enough time to adapt to our modern lifestyle.

Even relatively simple changes in the human body can take tens of thousands of years. Thus, our minds have not evolved sufficiently to solve the problems typical of our modern times.

Though our brains are more efficient than the best supercomputers, they are ill-suited for handling chronic stress, anxiety, depression, and other mental health conditions.

Some rightly say that we are Stone Age thinkers living in modern times. However, there is good news. We are fully capable of making our minds fit and healthy to manage and handle these modern-age challenges efficiently.

To read more on mental health-related issues, visit the blog of Mind Therapy

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