Stress kills

Try not to be this guy.

Try not to be this guy.

How many times a day to you let out a nice relaxed sigh?  Do you feel drained, wired, or anxious all day long?  These days, it seems like everybody is suffering from chronic stress.

I just read a book about stress called Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers by Robert M. Sapolsky.   Check this situation out.  When a lion rolls up on a zebra, the zebra’s sympathetic nervous system (think fight or flight) kicks in, and it bolts.  The zebra isn’t going to spend any energy digesting food, fighting off diseases, repairing damaged tissue, etc.  Once the zebra is free from danger, the parasympathetic nervous system (think rest and digest) turns back on. Faced with an acute stressor now and again but given plenty time to recharge during the rest of the time, animals can keep themselves pretty healthy and happy.

So why aren’t people healthy and happy? We don’t have stressors like lions, and for the most part we live our lives unafraid of things like sudden death.

Out of all the animals in the kingdom, it seems like humans are the most capable of getting chronically bent out of shape.  We get stress from just about every feature of American life.  Our food has pesticides for our body to deal with and doesn’t provide enough nutrition.  Our unnatural sleep schedules throw off our hormone balances.  Social relationships and our work environment surely causes us a lot of stress.  And two people may have totally different stress responses to the same situation just because of their personality.  And the economy, crikey.

From the book:

[There are many] things we all find stressful–traffic jams, money worries, overwork, the anxieties of relationships.  Few of them are “real” in the sense that that zebra or that lion would understand.  In our privileged lives, we are uniquely smart enough to have invented these stressors and uniquely foolish enough to have let them, too often, dominate our lives.

Privileged indeed.  But what is the result of chronic stress? Here’s a laundry list, mostly from Sapolsky’s book.  Immediate responses include high blood pressure, heart rate, and breathing rate.  Digestion, growth, reproduction, and immunity are all inhibited.  Surplus energy is used, not stored, leading to long-term fatigue.  Premature aging and memory loss are implicated as well.  Muscles don’t have the energy to rebuild.  There is a correlation with stress and depression.

Those with chronic stress are less able to respond strongly to acute stressors, such as an incoming lion, and these people also suffer from “elevated resting blood pressure; sluggish cardiovascular response to real stressors; a sluggish recovery; suppressed levels of the good HDL cholesterol . . . fewer circulating white blood cells . . ..”

The Modern Forager reported that stress increases your risk of a cardiovascular event as well.

Underground Wellness argued that stress makes you fat, which leads into a discussion about cortisol and adrenal fatigue.  If you feel stressed out all the time or want to learn about how your stress hormones function, check out this video.   Mark’s Daily Apple also offers a more technical guide to stress.

Well, you’ve made it this far.  You’re probably jittery and wide eyed, awaiting the solutions you presume to be forthcoming.  So here it is, Sam’s guide to stress-free living.

First of all, let’s roll with the basics.  Eat foods like fruits and vegetables that contain tons of antioxidants to help your body fight toxic stressors in your environment, and eat organic whole foods to help you avoid pesticides.  In fact, do your best to avoid toxic crap whenever possible.  Getting active on a regular basis is vital; this helps keep your hormones in check and releases endorphins.  But don’t overexercise.  Get enough sleep; you should sleep at least eight hours a day except in the summer, and you should sleep when it’s dark out.  Getting up early is great, and the more sunlight you get on your skin the better you’ll feel.

If you have all of that in order, here are some more ideas.  Consider taking a fish oil supplement (I recommend cod liver oil) and a whole foods multivitamin to make sure your body has everything it needs to take care of itself.  Find some calming activity to do regularly, such as meditation or yoga.  Having an outlet like this will help you expel feelings of frustration.  Be positive, but only in a rational way so your world doesn’t crash into your expectations.  Finally, everybody needs social support.

If none of this works for you, or you’re feeling so low you can’t even bother, I would recommend looking into supplements like 5-HTP, St. John’s Wort, and GABA.  These might not address the root problems of chronic stress, but they can definitely help you get on your feet.  Learn how to use them from The Mood Cure by Julia Ross.   Getting rid of your stress with these is a hell of a lot better than smoking and drinking.

Have a good day people, thanks for reading.


2 responses to “Stress kills

  1. ISleepTooMuch

    I think it has been semi-proven that half a glass of wine with your dinner relieves stress pretty well and lowers the risk of heart disease. And as long as you keep it to half a glass, it shouldn’t have any negative effects on your body.
    I don’t do it everyday, but on those days when I’ve been chased by “lions” all day, half a glass of wine helped to clear my head and made my thoughts more rational.

  2. sports is great, martial arts is the best thing to relief stress. also, i recommend not to waste time dating people. relationsships are pure stress 🙂

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