Beating Stress-the Silent Killer

Clogged arteries of stressed monkey versus unstressed one

Stress is a perceived dangerous loss of control. The good purpose of stress: the leopard attacks- adrenaline/epinepherine and cortisol dumps into your body, your Blood Pressure rises, your heart races, you hyperventilate and your muscles tense. This is no time for analysis, your reason is not required and is not engaged. All other processes, growth, healing digestion-are shut down. They can restart in three minutes when the crisis is over; because by then, either “it’s over with or you’re over with.”

Robert Sapolsky is a Stanford University neurobiologist, who for 30 years studied stress in baboons on a reserve in Kenya. Baboons, says Sapolsky, spend three hours a day to get calories, which leaves nine hours to make each other miserable. This is chronic, social and psychological stress, which is worse than leopard-induced stress.

Stress is a perceived dangerous loss of control. We make many choices all day with the goal of staying alive. We buckle our seat belts, take vitamins, avoid high crime zones…

We are doing a pretty good job at controlling our risks. Falling off a cliff or being swept away in a tsunami is dangerous because we have no control. How about being beaten up, evicted from our homes, or robbed at gun point? Brute force has taken our control and we feel stress.

I call brute force domination Alpaha Baboonery and crude humans sometimes use it on each other. Sapolsky illustrates: “Big male, loses a fight, chases a sub adult who bites an adult female who slaps a juvenile who knocks and infant out of a tree.” Baboons, like humans, exist in a social hierarchy. Bosses, cops, parents can ‘beat up’ those lower on the totem pole with relative impunity…and we feel stress. A friend defined stress like this: “Stress is when some SOB desperately needs strangling but you can’t do it.”

Unlike baboons, we can do something about this abuse, though it’s not easy. If you are in any such situation-do something; you have choices. It’s your life.

But Alpha Baboon stress is not the pervasive, chronic stress that ages us, weakens our immune systems and clogs our arteries. It’s the constant, nagging worry: How will I pay the rent this month? What is my teenager up to? Why do I have a pain in my side? Think about it-Most things we have worried about have never happened. Even if they did happen, worrying did no good. So how stupid is worrying? You can be “worried sick” or even “worried to death.” Stop it.

Instead, PLAN. If A happens, I’ll do B. If B doesn’t work, I’ll do C. Write it down. If you start worrying again, go over your list.

Here are DIY ways to reduce the stress in your life. This is serious-try the ones that appeal to you. Take control…and may you live a long, happy, healthy life.

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