Thursday, December 4, 2008

My Amazon Wish List Part II - Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers

Next on my wish list is the Robert Sapolsky M.D./National Geographic documentary, Stress: Portrait of a Killer and Sapolsky's book, Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers. Sapolsky is a Stanford University neuroendocrinologist. The video and the book will expound on his theories on stress:

  • Our body does not distinguish between real stress, like running for your life, and psychological stress, like, worry about money, mortgage, workplace issues.
  • Under stress, the body aims to survive and it will turn off other aspects that are not essential like, reproduction, growth, digestion, tissue repair. "You run for your life, this is no time to ovulate."
  • A zebra that escapes from a predator, will then turn off its stress response. We, humans, are unable to do so and we do it nonstop. We stress out for protracted periods for purely psychological reasons.  
  • Eventually, the stress response is more damaging than the stressor itself.

Sapolsky notes that the zebra gets terrorized for roughly 3 minutes. Then, after the predator is gone, the zebra is either dead or is once again roaming the savannah. It doesn't go around getting stressed out by a potential predator. Humans, on the other hand, anticipate  stress and emit what is called, anticipatory stress response.  

Coping with Stress
Sapolsky normally concludes by saying that "having a shoulder to cry on" helps us cope with stress. Trustworthy and reliable friends are key. 

Commit to stress management activities regularly. It should be something we do on schedule and not simply  when we feel like it. 

Maintain perspective as well. If you feel stressed about work, think, of somebody else who may be dying at that very moment. Breathe, then, get back to work.

Finally, don't be the stressor to others. We usually do this when we displace our own stress to those who work for us or those who are lower in hierarchy than us. 

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