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Let me introduce myself. My name is Mark Sisson. I’m 63 years young. I live and work in Malibu, California. In a past life I was a professional marathoner and triathlete. Now my life goal is to help 100 million people get healthy. I started this blog in 2006 to empower people to take full responsibility for their own health and enjoyment of life by investigating, discussing, and critically rethinking everything we’ve assumed to be true about health and wellness...

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October 30, 2013

Rethinking Stress: It Could Save Your Life

By Mark Sisson
207 Comments

Own the StressThink back to the last time you were under stress. What kind of physical symptoms can you recall?

Pounding heart. Increased pulse rate. The sensation of blood rushing through your body and brain. A narrowing of focus, your thoughts and gaze centered on the stressor itself; and then, suddenly, you’re scatterbrained. Anxiety. Your stomach a pit apparently filled with fluttering, winged insects. These are all familiar to anyone who’s faced down a deadline, bull in the arena, mounting stack of bills, or mugger.

But those symptoms also show up at other times in response to different situations. Mustering up the courage to ask a girl or guy out? Trying to make a move on the first date? Preparing to take a big test? Stepping up to the free throw line for potentially game-winning or game-losing foul shots? Psyching yourself up minutes before a public performance? You’re going to feel anxious and sweaty, your pulse will pound and you’ll exhibit all the classic symptoms of being under immense amounts of stress. But you’re not actually in danger. You’re under pressure. You’re gearing up to perform. Your nervous system is preparing you to handle the coming task.

Let’s look at those symptoms differently for a second.

Your pounding heart and racing pulse? It’s delivering nutrient-rich blood to your muscles, organs, and other tissues.

The tunnel vision? All the better to help you focus on your target or goal.

Faster breathing? More oxygen for your brain.

Anxiety? It’s to ensure caution and leave nothing to chance.

Even our sweaty palms and pits aren’t there to throw us off our game and make things even harder. We sweat under stress in order to alert others nearby – by odor – to the danger so that we can mount a unified response.

This changes things up, doesn’t it? Getting anxious over a girl doesn’t damage your health, nor does giving a speech. But the response to these challenges are eerily similar to the stress response.

That’s because the stress response is a preparedness tool, sometimes hastily thrown together by the body and wrongly interpreted by our brains, but it’s not the enemy. It’s there to make us work better under duress. It heightens our senses and steels our nerves and increases our attention to detail. We need it. And if we learn to reinterpret the stress response, the actual physiological changes that occur when you encounter a stressor, you may be able to reduce, sidestep, or repurpose the negative effects of stress on health. One recent study suggests this, finding that although high amounts of stress increase the risk of dying, it does so only in individuals who perceive stress to be harmful. In people who don’t see stress as a health threat, stress does not appear to increase mortality.

If the connections found in this study are indeed causative, this is huge. It means that stress isn’t “bad.” Stressing over stress is what makes stress so stressful.

To understand how this might work, let’s take a truly stressful, harrowing, dangerous situation, one that definitely deserves the stress response: a speeding bus headed straight in your direction. Do you consciously decide to throw yourself to the side to avoid collision? No; you just do it. Something inside you clicks and compels your limbs to move. It’s only after the fact that you can piece together what just happened.

That “something” is the amygdala, a region of the brain that receives and interprets incoming visual and auditory information. The amygdala is the “lizard brain.” Every animal, both higher and lower, has one. If it perceives a dangerous sight and/or sound, the amygdala sends a distress signal to the hypothalamus, the region of the brain that controls our endocrine responses (in addition to many other functions). The hypothalamus receives the stress signal and notifies the adrenal medulla to make adrenaline and the pituitary gland to begin producing adrenocorticotropic hormone, which tells the adrenal glands to make our old pal cortisol. This all happens before you know it, and it’s this rapid, subconscious response that throws you out of the way to safety.

But there’s another aspect to the stress response, and it comes from the site of higher thought: the neocortex. The neocortex acts more slowly than the amygdala, deciding after the fact whether the amygdala’s response to the perceived stressor was justified and if we should continue to stay on alert. Since we have conscious control over the neocortex, we can use it in a variety of ways to dampen the stress response or even turn stress into a performance booster.

How?

First, you can do what participants in a pair of stress reappraisal studies did: think of the stress response as a preparedness response. In the first study (PDF), subjects taking a standardized test were separated into two groups. Before the test began, both the experimental and control groups were told that they would have various salivary hormones analyzed to determine their stress and anxiety levels during the test; only the experimental group was told that research indicated “people who feel anxious during a test might actually do better.” The experimental group outperformed the control group and displayed a greater stress response.

In the second study (PDF), subjects were separated into an experimental group and two control groups, then given tasks to complete. The experimental group was told to reappraise their stress response – the pounding hearts and elevated pulse – as a way for the body to distribute important blood and nutrients in preparation for a task; they actually displayed an altered physiological response to stress. The control groups experienced the increased pulse and vasoconstriction (narrowing of the blood vessels), as most people do when under stress. This can increase stress on the vessel walls and lead to damage. Meanwhile, the experimental group’s pulse increased like normal, but instead of narrowing, their blood vessels expanded. Expanded vessels ensured the increased blood flow was benign, and even beneficial. They also had reduced attentional bias compared to the control groups – they stopped focusing so much on the “stress” and instead focused on the task at hand.

Reappraisal has also been shown to reduce the connection between stress and depression. People with the tendency to reappraise a stressful situation are less likely to suffer depression as a result of the stress, while people who don’t practice cognitive reappraisal tend to suffer more depression resulting from stress.

Even in cases where the stress response is completely and utterly justified, as in war veterans with PTSD, cognitive reappraisal can lessen the severity of the stress reactivity.

And if all that doesn’t convince you, check out this inspiring TED talk from Kelly McGonigal that covers much of the same territory.

So, reappraisal – changing how you think about stress – is the big one, but there are other actions to take that can positively change your response to stress.

Don’t sweat the small stuff. Say to yourself: “Look, traffic is unpleasant, but who cares?” Is it really worth being the guy who flips out because someone dared into his lane, every honk bringing him closer to stress-induced heart attack? We’ve all seen that guy, we’ve all been that guy, and it’s no way to live. If you get the urge to honk or speed up when someone puts their blinker on to come into your lane, don’t do it. Stay your hand. Acknowledge the desire, know that these urges are the result of a lizard brain prone to exaggerated responses in a modern world, and tell yourself that you’re better than that. You’ll go about your life with the preternatural calm of a zen master (well, maybe not quite that calm), deftly maneuvering through the thickest and nastiest of traffic and smiling all the while. In the words of a different type of zen master, “Let it be.”

In a “stressful” situation, get as weirdly analytical as you need to dismantle it. Ask yourself questions like “Is [the stressor] going to negatively impact my life enough to justify this physiological response?” or “How will sweaty palms and an elevated heart rate improve my ability to pay my car bill?” You’ll often find that answering them honestly and logically removes the stress.

Don’t let important things hang over you. Remember that mounting personal debt is not just an abstract stressor to be discarded or ignored or meditated away. You owe money; take steps to start paying down your debt methodically, however minimal the payment might be. You have a deadline; meet it. You’ve got a neglected spouse; wine and dine them. Some problems are real and deserve your attention. Reappraisal won’t beat everything.

Don’t ever say any permutation of “I’m so stressed,” even if you are. What’s the point? Whose cause does it serve? By reaffirming your stress level in a negative manner, you give it life and power over you. You’re literally telling yourself to be stressed out. It’s silly, so stop feeling sorry for yourself.

Give to others. Volunteer somewhere, help the old lady across the street (or whatever the modern corollary for that is), pitch in to help friends move houses, offer to show your mom how to properly lift heavy things, walk that old dog his elderly owner is unable to walk, make dinner for your sick buddy, and so on. A recent study found that stress only increased mortality risk in those who had not “provided tangible assistance to friends or family members.” People who helped their friends and family could endure stress without incurring a mortality risk.

And for those who think they can’t do this, that they’d never be able to truly convince themselves that stress wasn’t hurting them: faking it can work. Folks in the stress reappraisal studies had spent their lives hearing how stress could kill, just like all of you, and they were able to change how they responded to stress. See, the human brain is powerful. We have the unique ability to psyche ourselves out and think ourselves into a depressive, unhealthy pit, a terrible cycle of bad thoughts begetting bad thoughts begetting poor health. But it goes both ways. We can also trick ourselves into feeling better. We can tell ourselves that we don’t care about it, that the traffic doesn’t bother us – even if it kind of does – and that the stress we do experience isn’t harmful to our health, and not only will we eventually start to believe it, it will become true.

The ultimate message is that there is no “true you” underlying everything, waiting to call your bluff. Rather, we are what we think, say, and do. We have the power to shape our response to this sometimes but not necessarily stressful thing called life.

The real beauty of this approach is it’s easy. Thinking a thought takes almost zero effort. It expends very few calories. You can do it from the comfort of your bed. All you need is to know it can and it very well will work.

Stress will kill you.

But only if you let it.

So don’t.

P.S. Unfortunately, I doubt this works on obviously physical stressors, like overtraining, blows to the head, drug abuse, or lack of sleep. You can improve the total stress response by not psychologically stressing about the physical stress, but you won’t be negating the actual mechanical stress being heaped on your body.

I’m curious about your reaction to this. Does it change anything for you? How are you going to change your conscious perception of stress going forward?

Let’s hear all about it in the comment section!

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207 Comments on "Rethinking Stress: It Could Save Your Life"

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Groktimus Primal
2 years 11 months ago

I think I might be all lizard brain 🙂

pinkmuffin
pinkmuffin
2 years 10 months ago
I too believe this article is over simplistic. I thought I’m handling stressful situations well, flipping them onto a positive side (or at least getting sarcastic about it :)), switching into an ‘operational mode’ and ‘fix the probs’ at hand. until…tata, all of a sudden, I got diabetes type one. bam! welcome to the real world… I’ve always been an active healthy person, so it’s not due to bad lifestyle. I suspect it’s, err, SNEAKY stress. Through scientific articles I’m trying to find some logical connection between insulin, adrenalin, stress… etc. and how to make it work in one’s favour… Read more »
Leo
2 years 10 months ago

You should test your 25 (OH) D. Type-1 diabete and low levels of vitamin D are strongly linked.

pinkmuffin
pinkmuffin
2 years 10 months ago

Leo, you might be right about there being a connection, although I got diagnosed 3 months after moving to tropics exactly because weather was literally too exhausting in cold grey Europe…

Leo
2 years 10 months ago

3 months is not enough. Your d3 level should be between 80 and 120 ng/ml. Check it and supplement if necessary.

Katrina
2 years 10 months ago
Pink Muffin Thank you for voicing my thoughts. It is baffling when your energy system is sabotaged. Popular belief that diabetics need to lose weight is extremely stressful for a person with a BMI below 20. You are probably smarter than I am but may have a similar mistrust of categorisation . I know. I was misdiagnosed with type 2 diabetes five years ago, even though I was thin and healthy. The only reason for telling me I was type 2 was that I was 41 and medicine is preoccupied by numbers. If you would like a buddy to fight… Read more »
Ash Sparkle
Ash Sparkle
2 years 10 months ago

Improving your immune system won’t help with type 1 diabetes – it’s an auto immune condition. The stronger your immune system, the worse it will be,

Alixandrea
Alixandrea
2 years 10 months ago

Isn’t Type 1 Diabetes genetic? I’m not convinced that stress has caused it for you…

Adam
Adam
2 years 10 months ago

Don’t worry, you’re better than that!

This article is so great because it specifically gives inspiration and solutions for handling the day-to-day stress. This is the biggest struggle in my opinion, especially when we don’t have or make the time to decompress our hectic lives.

Kate
Kate
2 years 11 months ago

Meditation works.

Jen
Jen
2 years 11 months ago

Just what I was thinking, Kate!

Thornton
Thornton
2 years 11 months ago

I second that.

Stephanie Paris
2 years 11 months ago

That paragraph at the beginning of the article exactly describes every morning getting my kids ready and on time for school! :-/ Time to reassess and apply some changes.

Rhonda the Red
Rhonda the Red
2 years 11 months ago
I feel you, sister!! For about two years, every morning was a huge fight between me and my pre-teen daughter. We’d growl “I love you, have a good day” at each other as I dropped her off at school. Then one morning I decided I was not going to get angry with her any more, no matter the attitude. I would not yell any more. It was like a switch flipped inside me. Suddenly the anger and stress were gone and we began having much better mornings. I started saying things like “it’s okay, baby” and “we’ll find a way… Read more »
Brianne
Brianne
2 years 11 months ago

???????????? you learned and made a positive change, no need to regret that. And you wouldn’t have grown in that way unless you first displayed the opposite of who you wanted to be. ????

Rhonda the Red
Rhonda the Red
2 years 10 months ago

Way true! Thanks for the encouragement, Brianne! It’s easy to forget that in order to know where we want to go, we have to realize that we aren’t there yet. Not there isn’t bad, it’s just not there.

Brianne
Brianne
2 years 10 months ago

Yes, exactly! You’re welcome ????

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[…] Think back to the last time you were under stress. What kind of …read more […]

John
John
2 years 11 months ago
I have found this to be EXTREMELY effective. I first heard a similar approach listening to none other than Tony Robbins. He tells a story about talking to a nervous musician: The nervous musician described sweaty palms and an uneasy stomach before going on stage. Then Tony talked to Bruce Springsteen. He asked him what he felt before going on stage after all those years and how he wasn’t nervous. He said right before I go on stage my hands get warm and a little bit sweaty then my stomach gets exciting butterflies. “That’s when I know I’m ready to… Read more »
Ed
Ed
2 years 11 months ago
Good article. It is not the stress response that kills us, it;s when it continues to run after we need it. But I agree with the article and Bruce, it’s what we do with the stress response. It’s nicknamed fight or flight for a reason and how we cognitively frame it has to do with it being helpful or not. Another trick I have seen work with severe anxiety is to have an individual try to increase the symptoms. Both are about giving the individual a sense of control. As Mark hit on it is the stressing over stress that… Read more »
Erin
Erin
2 years 11 months ago

I think moderate amounts of stress are helpful and can strengthen us. Excess amounts obviously aren’t. But it’s up to us to determine if they will strengthen or weaken us. As far as mental stressors go, prioritize, stay organized, don’t be afraid to ask for help, never give up.

Shary
Shary
2 years 11 months ago

I’m surprised EFT wasn’t mentioned here. It isn’t just another “out-there” modality. In fact, it’s occasionally used in psychotherapy, although it’s easy and much cheaper to learn how to do it yourself. I’ve found it to be very effective for controlling stress and anxiety in difficult situations. It’s also been shown to be helpful for chronic pain and various types of addictive behavior.

Sharon
Sharon
2 years 11 months ago

What is EFT?

JC
JC
2 years 11 months ago

EFT = Emotional Freedom Technique http://eft.mercola.com/

Rhonda the Red
Rhonda the Red
2 years 11 months ago
EFT or meridian tapping has the person tap various points on the body (related to acupunture/acupressure points) to “defuse” emotional response. It can be extremely helpful in doing reappraisals and in working over past experiences that still crop up in your brain and stress you out. A quick run through of the basic points only takes a few seconds and can super-charge your “take a deep breath.” mercola.com used to have info on it and you can likely turn up a number of sources on the web. I have used it for several years and have found it extremely helpful… Read more »
Marcelo
Marcelo
2 months 18 days ago

Thanks for sharing. I haven’t seen that one yet! I will try it.
I use a breathing exercise in the mornings to help me with stress and anxiety and found to be very helpful. Can I combine the EFT with this breathing exercise? http://www.alsearsmd.com/2014/11/stress-special-breathing-and-african-herbs/

Beth
2 years 11 months ago

It relates, absolutely, but it takes the time to do EFT because it has the CBT component (setup) AND the mindful act of stimulating the acupoints. What is proposed here, in these studies, has to happen as quick as a thought (reappraising).

Shary
Shary
2 years 10 months ago
No, it doesn’t take a lot of time to do EFT. It can be done in just a few seconds. The trick is to do it repeatedly until the goal is achieved, usually over a period of a few days. Acupoints aren’t that critical; all you need to do is be in the general neighborhood. You do need to be “present” while doing EFT, but it isn’t at all necessary to overthink or overwork the process. What you are doing is replacing negative thought patterns with positive ones. It’s that simple. There is a web site for FasterEFT that’s even… Read more »
Ed
Ed
2 years 11 months ago

I agree, I am a therapist and learned this from a professor and have used it on myself as well as clients with awesome affect. I am also into Chinese martial arts and medicine so I had a natural interest when the professor shared the history of it. I immediately dialoged with a TCM practitioner friend and he was very interested and talked about how the points used are well thought out for disengaging the fight-flight response. “It works.”

Beth
2 years 11 months ago

I’m a therapist and a researcher and am working on an EFT/mol bio project. I will definitely be adding these references to my dissertation paper.

Tom
Tom
2 years 10 months ago

Beth, since you’re doing a paper, you may want to look into this possibly being a placebo effect. The recommendation of “thinking” down the problem (i.e. stress) is really the crux of the placebo effect.

I remember a study done on wounded Vietnam War soldiers, where they were told a saline injection was morphine, and it helped more than just a statistically significant percentage. The brain is a powerful, powerful thing!

I’ve personally come to the conclusion that even realizing, “yes, this is just a placebo, but it’ll still work,” will yield the same result.

EmpressE
EmpressE
2 years 10 months ago

Good call. I’ve used EFT very successfully for depression as well.

Yossi
Yossi
2 years 10 months ago

Agreed that EFT can work for some people as can a number of other placebos.

James
James
2 years 11 months ago

One of the best articles on here in a long time. Very interesting

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[…] Daily Apple / Posted on: January 01, 1970Mark’s Daily Apple – Think back to the last time you were under stress. What kind of physical symptoms can you […]

Sharon
Sharon
2 years 11 months ago

I mostly live a low stress life. My worst offense..letting things to do hang over me. I don’t know if they could be categorized as important but they are things I want to do to get organized. I am not even sure I am stressed out about my slacker ways.

I am making myself a list of things to get done this winter. Of course I have made this list before so I am loosing confidence in my ability to follow through.

Lorraine
Lorraine
2 years 10 months ago

Hey Sharon, try setting them up as projects with a deadline. Break them down into steps and set yourself a time to complete them have fun with it even use a kitchen time or set alarms. Getting started is the hardest. If necessary have someone hold you accountable for the completion of each thing and remember to reward yourself when you have done it.

Primal_Alex
Primal_Alex
2 years 11 months ago

If it can be solved, why stress?
If it can’t, why stress?

Careless attitude pays.

Tom B-D
Tom B-D
2 years 10 months ago

Pretty much sums up the sensible Stoic idea to only worry about what’s under your control. I also like “Virtue consists in a will that is in agreement with Nature.”

Jill
Jill
2 years 11 months ago

Reading this exactly 1 hour before giving a presentation to a panel of judges. Perfect timing! I’ve had symptoms for hours, but I’m trying to appreciate them as ‘I’m ready! This is going to be awesome!” Rather than freaking out about what I can’t just stay calm.

Perfect timing, thank you!

CM Taylor
CM Taylor
2 years 11 months ago

Makes sense to me. I’ve long preferred high energy, short turnaround work environments because of the stress responses I’ve experienced. I’ve been able to turn them into fuel for creative fire, allowing me to produce faster and better than I am able to in calmer, quieter times.

The thing that heartens me is learning that this strategy might not be as harmful to me as I’d previously assumed!

Spencer
2 years 11 months ago
A very well respected chiropractor called James Chestnut describes stress and the physiological changes it brings as the bodies adaptation to the situation you’re in to allow you the best chance or surviving it, and moving to a less stressful (or hazardous) environment. Once you’re conscious of this, you begin to think in a similar way to that in this article. Just tell yourself “I’m in this state of stress to allow me the best chance of getting to a less hazardous place”. Elevated adrenalin – think increased alertness and awareness of hidden predators, high blood pressure – think more… Read more »
Catherine
Catherine
2 years 11 months ago

Good article, however, you said we are what think, say & do. I think this is a bit misleading. It sounds as though we shouldn’t acknowledge our body. I used to ignore what I felt until my body spoke so loudly that I wouldn’t ignore it any longer. Our feelings give us information. I understand that you are a “thinking” type, while I’m a “feeling” type, but for all the feelers out there, don’t forget that your body has lots of information to share. Thanks for all your great information.

Roël McMahon
Roël McMahon
2 years 11 months ago

Great article, thanks! Just wondering about cortisol though, isn’t that always produced in a stress response and isn’t that always bad news?

Beth
2 years 10 months ago

Worse if you don’t have any cortisol respond to danger because then the “saber tooth tigers” of life will eat you. You need corisol to get adrenalin to run! It serves an important purpose.

tom Long Island
tom Long Island
2 years 11 months ago

You got debt pay it! Duh! Its not the actual debt that stresses people its not having the money to pay it!!!! AND having to keep accumulating it in order to not lose their home, etc…!

melv
melv
2 years 10 months ago

Amen

Sofie
Sofie
2 years 10 months ago

Check out Mr Money Mustache. You can probably spend a lot less money than you currently do.

bamboo
bamboo
2 years 11 months ago

Great article. I have Ptsd. It has taken me most of my life to learn what you just outlined- it’s the core of mindfulness thinking. Recently, my job started going nuts – endless calls with no resolution to issues where I noticed my BP rising as a result. Time to readjust the thinking on work stressing you out. I’m not being chased by lions!

billyacid
billyacid
2 years 11 months ago

Definitive answers for this ‘it’s good for you/ bad for you world’. Thank you again Mr. Sisson 🙂

Britt
Britt
2 years 11 months ago

I’ve done something similar for my mood at work. Every morning I pretended I was excited to be there and clean hotel rooms day after day; even though I hated my job.

Jenny
Jenny
2 years 11 months ago
I usually agree with a lot of your posts but this one is just a little too simplistic. Your examples of “You owe money; pay it. You have a deadline; meet it. You’ve got a neglected spouse; wine and dine them seem contrite. For example “You owe money” how about you don’t have a job, you’ve been looking for months and most businesses aren’t hiring in Q4 since it’s a short quarter and they don’t want a new hire on the books. You owe money, you can’t pay it because you don’t have it. Neglected spouse, Wine and Dine them,… Read more »
Nocona
Nocona
2 years 10 months ago

Become Anitfragile. Great book by Nassim Taleb.

Paleo Bon Rurgundy
2 years 10 months ago

Funny, “Antifragile” is my next book in queue. Currently on working through “The Gunslinger” by Stephen King. I like it and there is a whole series, woot!

Madeleine
2 years 10 months ago

Love, love, love Anti-fragile. It’s changed my world view and given me an existential crisis. Gotta love that!

Wafaa
Wafaa
2 years 10 months ago

I don’t think it’s “you have stressful situation X, deal with it by doing Y and the stress will go away” because this article isn’t going to magically solve real life problems just because you changed how you were thinking about it.

Feeling stressful about X is not a bad thing. It your body and mind recognizing that there’s something that needs to be dealt with and are responding accordingly. If you view stress as a force of good and embrace it, it might be the difference between feeling upset or nervous, and feeling ready and prepared for difficulty.

tom Long Island
tom Long Island
2 years 11 months ago

The whole notion that expressing our feelings is being bad is well a stressor in itself. Saying, I’m stressed, is letting it out in some schools of thought. Holding it in – and in the brain is not good either. Some people can’t admit they too can fall victim to stress – creating stress. Let the energy go, let it out! Just don’t simmer in it!

jenn
jenn
2 years 11 months ago
my family is full of hot heads and it was awful to grow up around a pressure cooker. going off to college gave me the opportunity to compare my own stress response to those around me, especially for the little things. i had a critical experience getting incredibly and increasingly angry and frustrated trying to change a bike tire. my roommate came home, saw me freaking out on the sidewalk and said, ‘jeez, it’s just a bike tire!’ watershed moment. i walked my bike to the repair shop, paid them $5 to fix it, and never looked back. i practiced… Read more »
Luke
2 years 10 months ago

Funny Jen I was the same exact way and could get easily worked up. I even worked I my family bike shop and can specifically rememeber flipping out on bikes. Now I had a whole new attitude and am much better and not getting worked up (not to say it won’t happen)

It’s just a conscious decision to not want/like feeling that way.

Charlie
Charlie
2 years 10 months ago

I love your “talking to your body” method!

Krish
Krish
2 years 11 months ago

Who cares?

😉

Justine
Justine
2 years 10 months ago

Hahaha love your comment 🙂

trackback

[…] Think back to the last time you were under stress. What kind of physical symptoms can you recall? Pounding heart. Increased pulse rate. The sensation of blood rushing through your body and brain. A narrowing of focus, your thoughts and gaze centered on the stressor itself; and then, suddenly, you’re scatterbrained. Anxiety. Your stomach a […] Mark’s Daily Apple […]

Krish
Krish
2 years 11 months ago

The above was a tongue-in-cheek comment. I am hugely appreciative of the impact Mark has had on my thinking and on the lives of so many. I think the gentleman is a true genius with a huge heart.

Stephanie
Stephanie
2 years 11 months ago
This makes a ton of sense to me. Those physiological responses serve a purpose- that makes sense. I think the “faking it” aspect of the piece is a lot like what my dad taught me when I was going through puberty and in a continual state of negativity and dealing with potential ulcers, gaining tons of weight and the like- positivity breeds positivity and negativity breeds negativity in all of the senses you can think of- physically, emotionally, etc. In 7th grade I finally figured out what the heck he was talking about and ever since I generally don’t over-react… Read more »
Eva
Eva
2 years 11 months ago
I think we have to be careful about overreaching on what this experiment shows. It is well known that a person’s general outlook on life is correlated with mortality. This experiment IMO shows that those with a more positive outlook about stress, handle stress better. I think you would also find that those with a more positive outlook on sweeping the floor hand that better too. I think if you had told all the red heads that red heads usually do better on the test, you might find that positive attitude might improve their test scores. I think what you… Read more »
Chris Smith
Chris Smith
2 years 11 months ago

“Stressing over stress is what makes stress so stressful.”
-Mark Sisson

This is one of the best quotes ever! Thanks for a great article!

Nocona
Nocona
2 years 10 months ago

And I’m sure he coudn’t stress that enough.

Jake
2 years 11 months ago
@ Kate and others commenting on “meditation works”. it does and is a useful life skill. We all could benefit from a little quite time every day. However imeditation doesn’t do you much good in the middle of stressful situation requiring optimal performance. For that, I like the techniques taught by the folks at HeartMath, plus they have excellent science to back up the claims. The book The HeartMath Solution explains it well. For the technically inclined they now have a iPhone app that lets you see your heart rate variability realtime. This is not biofeedback – you don’t need… Read more »
Juli
Juli
2 years 10 months ago
I must respectfully disagree with the “however” part of your opinion about meditation. The benefits of regular meditation deepen and persist throughout one’s day and life. There is plenty of published research that demonstrates changes in the brain. The Zen masters I once trained with practiced meditation that comes with a tradition of martial arts where you could really get your a** kicked not to mention a commit to the enlightenment of all sentient beings — not small, stress-free matters. Meditation enhances optimal performance under stress. In my experience, one can enjoy the stress response and its benefits while retaining… Read more »
Oolichan
Oolichan
2 years 11 months ago

Any thoughts on using tryptophan or 5-HTP … Or GABA?

Jake
2 years 10 months ago

those are useful supplements, especially GABA. You could also consider rhodiola or the Ayurevedic adaptogenic herb ashwagandha.

However the real answer isn’t going to come from supplements. Developing mental control is key and much of what Mark describes in his post is cognitive restructuring. The Wellness Book is a good introduction to that as well as mindfulness meditation.

CJ
CJ
2 years 10 months ago

My acupuncturist has me on GABA and 5-HTP. I have found them both helpful as I dealt with the stress of caring for both my in-laws in their final illnesses.

Tom
Tom
2 years 11 months ago

If this really works, I’ll be a new man! n=1, starting now!

Michelle
2 years 11 months ago

Great article!

Lynn
Lynn
2 years 11 months ago

I have found this to be true. I just can’t seem to do it just before my doctor appt when my blood pressure is to be taken. Riding in busy traffic… No problem.

Lynn
Lynn
2 years 10 months ago

Keep calm
And
Carry on

Sarah Lee
Sarah Lee
2 years 10 months ago
I agree with this article, even when one is out of work and money. Do what you can, even if it is only appreciating beautiful sunrises, sunsets, landscapes, flowers, children, etc. Dwelling on how over-stressed I am only makes me more so. Better for me just to take a mini-vacation and pick something from my garden. I like the idea of feeling stress as a sign of readiness and preparation to do something. However, one can get too busy and stressed, and then it’s time to be satisfied with what one has already done and take a break. Mental flexibility… Read more »
Scott UK
Scott UK
2 years 10 months ago

It’s not acute stress that kills you, but chronic unremitting stress…

Pure Hapa
Pure Hapa
2 years 10 months ago

Yes, I agree with this.

I think some folks get in the habit of being “stressed-out” and actually become addicted to being in that chronic state. I’ve had more than my share of acute stress and I believe it’s helped make me a strong, resilient person.

Dano
Dano
2 years 10 months ago

Great tip I got one time from a driving school instructer: (yes, had a couple of speeding tickets) “Drive like Spock.” The sub-human form in the green toyota cut me off while zig zagging through traffic…intriguing.

Rob
Rob
2 years 10 months ago

I think I’ll take it a little easier on the commute home as that’s a huge source of stress for me.

Paleo Bon Rurgundy
2 years 10 months ago

Modern corollary?: Help the old lady who lives across the street secure her open WIFI.

Pure Hapa
Pure Hapa
2 years 10 months ago

Ha!!! Since I work in high-tech, I’m the tech guru for all the seniors I know. My 70 and 80-something neighbors are all addicted to their ipads now.

Al Judycki
2 years 10 months ago

An amazing article. I’ve been under CHRONIC stress for months now–it totally changed my perspective. It makes sense. Why would God provide us with the ability to meet life’s challenges–like dealing with the Obumbler care disaster–without the means to make good use of the the inerrant ‘energy’ provided by stress? Clearly, a life changing article.

Emily
Emily
2 years 10 months ago
I have tried to modify my all-or-nothing approach to life and, instead, gradually introduce positive habits. It also helps me to focus on things in life over which I can actually have an impact, which serves as an almost “re-introduction” to the internal locus of control I suspended when fretting about social problems large and small. My thoughts may stray occasionally, but I strive constantly toward a focus on myself and how I am thinking and feeling, listening to the cues of my body (difficult for an academic – lots of head, with little emphasis on the heart!). I keep… Read more »
Brooke
Brooke
2 years 10 months ago
This article is very timely, as I recently started a new job after a long summer of doing nothing. It has been hard adjusting to being back in the working world, and I have felt a lot more stressed than I want to be. The responsibilities won’t go away, but how I frame the stress is a HUGE help. This is the kind of attitude-changing advice I need that helps me continually realign my life to a more primal style. I love it! It also reminds me of something I’ve read about pain: how you can reframe your thinking about… Read more »
David Andrews
David Andrews
2 years 10 months ago

Mark, how about some tips for us older (60+) guys, whose metabolism is declining, along with our testosterone,we’re getting flabby, and developing unpleasant physical characteristics (man boons!).

We may not be able t run 10 miles, or lift a lot of weight very day. Have some sympathy!

Terry Bishop
2 years 10 months ago

I, have high cortisol…so, I appreciate your stress article…I will rethink my situation..Thanks

Barb
Barb
2 years 10 months ago

I think if we can practice thinking positive thoughts every day, our whole outlook can change and that can’t be bad.

Dmitri
2 years 10 months ago
I’d add a couple more things to this great article: 1. Deal with your pressure items one at a time. If this isn’t the time and place for it, wait until it is. One of the great things about stress is that you can procrastinate. You put off other things all of the time, so why not delay something as tiresome as money worries? If you find yourself worried about your business, tell yourself “I will worry about that tomorrow. Right now, I’m only going to think about my health concerns.” This is the same as “be in the here… Read more »
Mark S
2 years 10 months ago

Great tips, using a lot of these teqniques already and it really makes a big difference.

Rgds,
Mark

Allison
2 years 10 months ago

I find that working to reduce stress is such a lifelong process. I definitely feel that over time I have developed better skill for handling stress but any tips are always helpful and I really like the idea of thinking of stress response as preparedness response.

Kurt
Kurt
2 years 10 months ago

Don’t worry about what is stressing you…put that “worry” energy to better use. Think about how to solve the stress or problem. Maybe you can’t solve it…so think again how you can reduce or handle the stress or problem. Worrying will only lead to more stress, fear, anxiety or depression. Fight the stress or problem…don’t let it win!

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