Sciences Biology Social Science Evolution Mental Health Ecopsychology

Out stress is more complicated than other animals, and its side effects are not cautiously considered.  In effect, we do not listen to the wise counsel of our own bodies, because our analytical brain allows our thoughts to often sublimate warnings.  We slip into denial.

The human animal experiences stress differently than other animals.  All animals experience stress, usually referred to as “fight or flight”, but only human animals store accumulative and damaging stress that leads to serious health issues, (This does not, of course, include lab animals who are often subjected to stress, pain, and confinement, and obviously suffer negative health results.)  Other Animals do experience much of the same response we do, including increased blood pressure, accelerated heart rate, immediate alertness,  accumulation of adrenaline, and seeking of an escape route. 

The difference is we have largely negated our woodland predators and outdoor living risk factors, but we still maintain our evolutionary programming.  So, although our stressor may be an irritated teacher or spouse, rather than a stampeding woolly mammoth, we still have the responses, but we do not have healthy outlets for them.

Our neo cortex allows that we rationalize, analyze, sublimate, and often internalize, these bodily reactions. They can be stored as physical illness, emotional baggage, or behavioral traits such as brooding, pacing, insomnia, over-compensating, irritability, and so on.

Our worst habit is that instead of acknowledging a stressor, accepting it for what it is and moving forward, we often push it to the back of our brains, where it simply becomes part of our on-going mind made story of “who I am and what I have suffered.”  From this compartmentalization comes our inner programming about whom we can trust, why we feel abandoned or alienated, and why we project, or in other ways employ psychological defense mechanisms.  Our defense mechanisms usually protect us, but invariably some of them arise with negative consequences as well.

It may not be conscious, in fact, with the number of tasks we routinely do, and the huge number of distractions, it is much more often unconscious.  That is why it becomes a destructive and even debilitating source of negative thoughts, feelings, depression, anxiety, and social isolation.

Awareness of our origins and our evolutionary psychology is of great importance in understanding what we are, what we suffer, and how we can avoid it.  The emerging field of Eco psychology also has much to teach us about how we are like other animals, even other living things such as plants, forests, and so on.  We can learn that which gave us life, sustains us, not just physically, but emotionally as well.

These natural structures exist to a very large extent without the kind of trauma, stress related diseases, and artificial coping mechanisms we, a very young primate species anthropologically, experience.  In natural systems toxins are released, dissipated, and not overly concentrated.  It may be said that nature produces no garbage, only nutrients.  For humans, however, we stuff stress down until it becomes emotional garbage and toxic waste.  External pollution is a sign of our internal “toxins.”  This is true from the smallest cell to the global bio-sphere.  Fortunately for us, nature has ways to help alleviate stress, and improve physical health.

We can learn that besides benefiting from connecting with living things that sustain and support us, we also benefit from protecting those systems, because we create self esteem.  We find that  internal gratitude for the realization that mountains, meadows, and forests, even your very favorite outdoor lunch spot,  helps rejuvenate and heal you.  Spending time with loved ones in soothing settings is especially stress reducing.  Eating right, walking outdoors, avoiding traffic, malls, noise, smoggy air, artificial light, and water pollution all help.

Our historical exploitation, even domination, of natural systems led to our physical and mental disconnection.  Now we are in effect, able to return to “the garden” and find healthier ways to connect with ourselves, our loved ones, and the global community.