BUSINESS

How Elon Musk, Bill Gates & Richard Branson deal with stress

by

Abel Tilney

SUSTAIN EUROPE

SENIOR WRITER

3:25 PM GMT

August 30, 2015

 

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Elon Musk, Tesla Factory

IMAGE: Maurizio Pesce

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Consider this: modern humans are about 200,000 years old. The modern office on the other hand, is only about 300 years old.

 

So it stands to reason that either evolution, or our mindset, has a lot of catching up to do.

 

 

Stress is the silent killer. It negatively impacts your mood, your eating habits. your sleep pattern. It can even shrink your brain size, increase abdominal fat, damage your heart and impact chromosomal makeup (amongst a whole host of other really shocking things).

 

Stress also galvanises us, makes us stronger in preparation for an attack, gives us a heightened sense of awareness. But please make no mistake about it: too much stress is definitely a bad thing. So what can we understand about stress that might help us make use of it when the time is absolutely right and necessary? This question might best be answered by taking a look back in time...

 

Thousands upon thousands of years ago, our ancestors developed a parasympathetic nervous system which would literally flood the bloodstream with hormones, the big two being adrenaline and cortisol. This physiological response (which we more commonly call today the flight-or-flight-or-freeze response) activated a process enabling the mind and body to cope with the impending trauma. Back then, this was a really important thing. Everything from sabre-toothed tigers to giant bears, and charging elephants even to gigantic African crowned eagles saw us humans as fair game, and so as you can imagine the flight/flights response was of great benefit for them.

 

Here's the problem: we no longer live in an age when we need to ward off an attack from the animal kingdom. But our brains do not know this. When this response system was developed, our amygdala (the two small regions of the fear circuit buried deep in the limbic area of the brain) was to only provide an alarm signal to the body and was not informing the body about the particular danger that was being faced. So your body mobilises itself to fight off a swooping gigantic African crowned eagle when the particular stressor you actually happen to be facing is the impending board meeting or the coffee you just spilt all over your freshly-pressed trousers. Moreover, today’s world presents a constant barrage of low-level stressors, meaning the fight-or-flight response is switched on far more frequently these days.

 

If we are going to get ahead in this world, we seriously need to calm our body down before it perceives our day to day trivialities as situations of life-threatening proportions. So we can either hang around for another few hundred thousand years to wait for evolution to catch up, or if that isn't on your immediate agenda, Sustain Europe would like to present to you how some of the most successful modern humans are turning it around and are silencing the silent killer:

 

 

Stress Infographic

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