June 30, 2024 at 12:22 pm

Human Evolution Can’t Keep Up With Modern Culture And It’s At The Center Of A Lot Of Our Physical And Mental Health Problems

by Trisha Leigh

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Evolution takes time. A long time, like eons and stuff.

Our modern culture has changed so much so fast that the world we live in today is nearly unrecognizable from the one we lived in just thirty years ago. And a hundred years ago? Might as well have been a different planet.

Evolutionarily speaking, however, we haven’t really changed at all.

Once you understand that, scientists say it’s easier to understand why humans as a species are struggling to keep up with the world around us, despite all of the objectively positive choices provided by technology.

This is manifesting in things like the rising prevalence of mental health issues.

A mismatch happens when a physical or psychological evolved adaptation becomes out of line with an environment.

A prevalent example is moths that evolved to use the moon for direction as they navigated in the dark. Now, you’ll see them drawn to things like lamps and indoor lights, because the invention of artificial lighting happened faster than they could adapt to it.

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In humans, a “sweet tooth” was an important evolutionary tool for our ancestors who needed calorie-rich foods to survive.

Now, companies mass produce foods full of refined sugar and fat, knowing that we’re designed to crave it – and the result is tooth decay, obesity, and diabetes.

And the modern world is full of examples like this that twist traits that should have been helpful into something harmful instead.

One of the most concerning issues that has risen recently, for example, is loneliness.

Human beings evolved to want to “belong,” because we were safest living in kin-based nomadic tribes of 50-150 people.

Now, we live in cities full of strangers, but not many friends, and we still have that insatiable drive to belong.

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When social animals are kept in crowded spaces they can experience competitive stress, which can result in poor immune function and fertility, among other indications of poor physical health.

Humans display similar stress behaviors when living in crowded places.

Social media exacerbates issues that revolve around social comparisons and inequality. When we lived in hunter-gatherer societies, there wasn’t much gap in social status, if any at all.

Now, we know down to the last dollar what separates us from those who have more (and less).

Social media also presents people’s best versions, leaving others feeling worse about their own reality. We’re hard-wired to close gaps between us and the people around us, but in this modern world where it’s not possible, having all of this information doesn’t lead anywhere positive.

Competition and status anxiety have been linked to obsessions with educational attainment, vying for prestigious jobs, and materialism. People are going into debt to create the impression of wealth, the dealing with the stress and mental health issues related to debt.

A 2023 report revealed that Gen Z professionals are willing to take risks on investments like cryptocurrencies in a bid to make big gains.

It’s the same culture that inspires people to continually spend money on weight loss programs or cosmetic surgery.

People are starting to respond more favorably, in light of cost of living increases and job dissatisfaction, though.

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A 2023 survey found that Millennial and Gen Z respondents are no longer trying to achieve high career ambitions or dream of owning a home. Many of the 55,000 respondents, born between 1981 and 2012, are focusing more on caring for their own mental and physical health.

This is because when competition becomes too intense, people experience anxiety or depression as an internalized response. These trends are stronger in countries with a strong culture of shame, like Japan, South Korea, and to some extent, the United States.

External responses could include anger, cynicism, aggression, and hostility. This is where “incels” come into play, and one reason why mass shootings have increased with such fervor.

Experts suggest there are ways we can adjust our environment to align with our current evolutionary status. Reducing the crowding, increasing access to nature, and taking more time for yourself can reduce stress and improve wellbeing.

Taking steps to reduce consumerism and your exposure to mass and social media could also help, along with choosing a job that is meaningful to you as opposed to just being “good” as far as money and prestige.

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Some are turning to minimalism and mindfulness in an attempt to remember to be content in the beauty of everyday life.

You’ll have to find what works for you, but the bottom line is that while nothing is wrong with society, it seems we’re just not currently well-adapted for it.

And understanding the root of the issue is really half the battle.

If you found that story interesting, learn more about why people often wake up around 3 AM and keep doing it for life.