The Rise in Stress-related Physical and Mental Health Problems in the 21st Century: A conflict between biology and culture?

Posted: 29th May 2024

Source: (24) The Rise in Stress-related Physical and Mental Health Problems in the 21st Century: A conflict between biology and culture? | LinkedIn

In the modern world, however, we face predominantly psychosocial stressors such as work pressure, financial concerns, and rapidly changing technological advancements that affect every aspect of our lives. These stressors are not typically life-threatening but are persistent, leading to prolonged activation of the general adaptation response. Our bodies, still wired for ancient dangers, respond to these modern stressors with the same neurohormonal and physical responses as they would to a predator attack, as there hasn’t been enough time for an evolutionary more apt adaptation to occur. This conflict between biology and culture, known as an evolutionary mismatch, may be one of the reasons for the rise in physical health problems today, including obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease, as well as mental health problems such as chronic stress, anxiety, and depression.

Developmental Mismatch: The Impact of Modern Lifestyles

Developmental mismatch, on the other hand, refers to the discrepancies that occur during an individual’s growth and development due to the environment they are exposed to at various stages. A mismatch because experiences for which we create protective or defence mechanisms during critical periods of development are different than the conditions/ experiences encountered later in life. These developmental mismatches can disrupt normal physiological and psychological development, leading to long-term health issues, including obesity, metabolic disorders, cognitive impairment and behavioural disorders.

The Interplay of Evolutionary and Developmental Mismatches

Does the interplay between evolutionary and developmental mismatches compound the problem of stress in modern society? Our evolutionary heritage predisposes us to respond to stress in ways that are no longer appropriate for most contemporary challenges. At the same time, developmental mismatches exacerbate our vulnerability to stress by disrupting healthy growth and development. This interplay may indeed explain the rise in stress-related physical and mental health problems and why traditional treatment solutions often fall short, as they fail to address the underlying evolutionary and developmental causes.

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