“There has been a revolution in medicine…It involves recognizing the interactions between the body and the mind.”
“Stress-related disease emerges [because] we so often activate a physiological system that has evolved for responding to acute physical emergencies, but we turn it on for months on end.”
“Zebras and lions may see trouble coming in the next minute and mobilize a stress-response…but they can’t get stressed about events far in the future.”
“Sustained or repeated stress can disrupt our bodies in seemingly endless ways.”
“What goes on in your head can affect how well your immune system functions.”
Improving your physical conditioning often significantly reduces stress. Exercise elevates your mood, lowers resting heart rate and blood pressure, and increases lung capacity. Regular exercise lowers your risk of cardiovascular and metabolic diseases, or makes it less likely that stress will exacerbate them.
People who socialize often are less stressed than loners. But choose your friends wisely. Even just a little time with the wrong people can be very stressful.
When nursing-home residents exercise more control over their own affairs, they become happier and more content. Hospital patients who are able to self-administer their painkillers also experience less stress. Whenever possible, gain control of as many aspects of your life as possible without wasting your time thinking about the past or trying to control what you can not control in the future.
Though the future is unknowable, you will feel calmer if you do know how and when something will occur than if you don’t. It is helpful to establish predictability when possible; on the other hand, sometimes knowing too much about coming events can also become stressful.
Glucocorticoid levels and blood pressure drop during meditation, but it isn’t clear whether these benefits remain after the meditative experience.
6. The “80/20 rule”
The initial 20% of your efforts will reduce 80% of your stress. As any mental health professional will tell you, getting a person to do something about emotional problems – even just scheduling an appointment to discuss things with a therapist – often makes all the difference. It is very important to take action of some kind to reduce stress. Starting an immediate change is the best way to relieve stress quickly. Do something to change your life. Take action now.
When life deals you a bad hand, something that is far beyond prevention, control and healing, denial often proves to be the best coping strategy. In the face of absolute catastrophe, never give up hope that things can improve. This may sound naive and optimistic, but such a positive attitude will help you minimize stress.
8. Find an “outlet for your frustrations”
Maybe it’s camping or fishing in the great outdoors. Maybe it’s shopping. Maybe it’s partying. Whatever it is, do it regularly if it helps. Turn it into a healthy habit.
9. Repetition of stressful events
Ironically, the more often you do something stressful, the less stressful it can become. Studies of Norwegian soldiers show that their epinephrine and glucocorticoid levels are extremely high for hours before and after their first few parachute jumps. But after a large number of jumps, their hormone secretion patterns return to normal – except when they actually leap out of the plane.
Professional help can change your behavior and the way you handle stress, as well as altering your cholesterol profile and other health indicators.
“When something good happens, you want to believe that this outcome arose from your efforts, and has broad, long-lasting implications for you.”
“When the outcome is bad, you want to believe that it was due to something out of your control, and is just a transient event with very local, limited implications.”
“Hope for the best and let that dominate most of your emotions, but at the same time let one small piece of you prepare for the worst.”
September 15, 2004
Robert M. Sapolsky is a professor of biology and neurology at Stanford University and a research associate with the Institute of Primate Research, National Museum of Kenya. He is the author of A Primate's Memoir and The Trouble with Testosterone, which was a Los Angeles Times Book Award finalist. A regular contributor to Discover and The Sciences, and a recipient of a MacArthur Foundation "genius" grant, he lives in San Francisco.