05/16/2016 10:27 EDT | Updated 05/17/2017 05:12 EDT

Modern Stress And Our Misfiring Minds

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Woman with head in hands

Did you know that your misfiring mind is probably harming you and your loved ones?

Let me explain: When you're stressed, you could be experiencing agitation, impatience, an increase in annoyance, pessimism, depression, and self-doubt.

Some of this negativity can even act itself out on a subconscious level. For example, you may feel like you're not enjoying all the good things life has to offer, but you don't know why. And this can be really hard on the people around you, especially if you're not able to communicate to them exactly what's bothering you.

Yet these symptoms of being too tense too often aren't hard-wired into our thought processes. They're mostly a product of our modern-day lifestyles.

In contrast, our distant ancestors experienced stress in a completely different and far less damaging way. For them, stress was usually a very short-lived experience. It was merely an evolutionary reaction to danger.

Commonly known as the "fight or flight" response, it involves the body's secretion of the stress hormones cortisol and adrenalin. And it's such a basic instinct that it's critical to the survival of every warm-blooded animal.

When this fight or flight response kicks-in, your adrenal glands release a burst of adrenaline into your bloodstream. This speeds-up your heart rate and rushes more blood to your muscles. The adrenaline also signals your liver to flood your body with glucose (blood sugar) for fuel.

At the same time, your body produces cortisol to raise your blood pressure. This helps better oxygenate your muscles and brain. Cortisol also makes fatty acids available to you as an additional source of immediate energy.

All of this is essential if your body has to spring into action. This is particularly vital if you need to be in a super-energized state, such as having to run for your life while being chased by a wild animal. Or if you have to stand and fight, such as fending off a four-legged predator or even a human foe.

However, our biological heritage has only primed us to instinctively react this way from anywhere between a few seconds to a few minutes at a time. In the wild, as soon as the threat ends, this stress response shuts down.

Now here's the modern-day catch: As humans, we've been conditioned to activate this surge of stress hormones for psychological concerns, as well as physical threats. All manner of situations and perceived challenges/problems can evoke this knee-jerk fight or flight reaction.

For example, this may include worrying about the outcome of a business meeting, or dealing with congested freeways when you're running late for an appointment.

It may even involve getting yourself all worked-up in anticipation of something that you're really looking forward to. Whatever the case, you need to learn how to control stress and stop it from eating away at you -- especially if it goes on for hours on end.

However, a constant secretion of this potentially toxic stress hormone will leave you worse for wear. It'll weaken your immune system, making you more susceptible to all kinds of diseases and illnesses.

It can damage brain cells and trigger heart disease. And at the very least, cortisol promotes pro-aging inflammation at a cellular level.

So chill out! It's in your own best interests. And your loved ones will appreciate it too, particularly if you don't let stress slowly kill you.

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