In an evolutionary context, stress can be crucial for survival, but in this day and age most humans get stressed for psychological reasons, that are often constant and lingering.
When we’re stressed our body releases glucocortocoid hormones, which channel energy to our minds and take it away from basic maintenance functions. In the long term, elevated levels of these hormones can lead to diabetes, hypertension, decreased testosterone, memory loss and a suppressed immune system.
So stress is an old response, but not necessarily a helpful one in today’s society. Our evolutionary neighbours may hold a few keys to how to combat this ancient problem though. Studies of wild baboons suggest that there are two powerful predictors of who will be most affected by stress:
Those who can differentiate between a big threat and minor issue, figure out a way to get some control over big issues and have a coping mechanism for negative outcomes are likely to have relatively low stress levels.
- Social Connectedness.
Baboons who had strong relationships had low glucocorticoid levels and outlived the more isolated baboons by about three years.
That’s not to say that we’re all like baboons of course (well, not all of us anyway), but the signs from nature are clear: social creatures like ourselves vary a lot in their responses to situations, but the more we stay connected to each other, the safer we seem to feel.
The benefits of social contact for our wellbeing are well-documented in humans too. If you are finding things more stressful than those around you, don’t cut yourself off: make sure you spend time with people and the things that are stressing you out may seem more manageable after all.
So the next time you find yourself stressed out because of other people, remember that you would be much worse off without them. To paraphrase what Homer Simpson once said about beer: “Other people – the cause of, and solution to, all of life’s problems.”