Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
30 Oct

Rethinking Stress: It Could Save Your Life

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.


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!

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. I think I might be all lizard brain :)

    Groktimus Primal wrote on October 30th, 2013
    • 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 when things (read: body) don’t work as they should. No real satisfaction so far… Grok? :)

      pinkmuffin wrote on October 30th, 2013
      • You should test your 25 (OH) D. Type-1 diabete and low levels of vitamin D are strongly linked.

        Leo wrote on October 30th, 2013
        • 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…

          pinkmuffin wrote on October 31st, 2013
        • 3 months is not enough. Your d3 level should be between 80 and 120 ng/ml. Check it and supplement if necessary.

          Leo wrote on October 31st, 2013
      • 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 type 1 diabetes, do let me know. My intention is to improve my immune system, and to do that I would like to learn more about autoimmunity and T-cells.

        We may each need support from somebody with experience of this.

        Best wishes,

        Katrina wrote on October 31st, 2013
        • 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,

          Ash Sparkle wrote on October 31st, 2013
      • Isn’t Type 1 Diabetes genetic? I’m not convinced that stress has caused it for you…

        Alixandrea wrote on November 27th, 2013
    • 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.

      Adam wrote on October 31st, 2013
  2. Meditation works.

    Kate wrote on October 30th, 2013
    • Just what I was thinking, Kate!

      Jen wrote on October 30th, 2013
    • I second that.

      Thornton wrote on October 30th, 2013
  3. 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.

    Stephanie Paris wrote on October 30th, 2013
    • 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 to make it work” about everything from hairstyles to school projects. I look back at those days with extreme fondness and regret that I let my stress response interfere with my ability to be a good mother (and a good grownup).

      Rhonda the Red wrote on October 30th, 2013
      • 👍👍👍 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. 😊

        Brianne wrote on October 30th, 2013
        • 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.

          Rhonda the Red wrote on October 30th, 2013
      • Yes, exactly! You’re welcome 😊

        Brianne wrote on October 30th, 2013
  4. 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 perform!” Bruce explained. Situations where we are “nervous” are controlled by our brains.

    John wrote on October 30th, 2013
    • 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 gets people.

      Ed wrote on October 30th, 2013
  5. 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.

    Erin wrote on October 30th, 2013
  6. 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.

    Shary wrote on October 30th, 2013
    • What is EFT?

      Sharon wrote on October 30th, 2013
      • EFT = Emotional Freedom Technique

        JC wrote on October 30th, 2013
      • 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.” 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 in my personal experience.

        Rhonda the Red wrote on October 30th, 2013
    • 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).

      Beth wrote on October 30th, 2013
      • 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 more streamlined than what Mercola teaches.

        Shary wrote on October 30th, 2013
    • 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.”

      Ed wrote on October 30th, 2013
      • 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.

        Beth wrote on October 30th, 2013
        • 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.

          Tom wrote on October 30th, 2013
    • Good call. I’ve used EFT very successfully for depression as well.

      EmpressE wrote on October 30th, 2013
    • Agreed that EFT can work for some people as can a number of other placebos.

      Yossi wrote on October 31st, 2013
  7. One of the best articles on here in a long time. Very interesting

    James wrote on October 30th, 2013
  8. 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.

    Sharon wrote on October 30th, 2013
    • 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.

      Lorraine wrote on October 31st, 2013
  9. If it can be solved, why stress?
    If it can’t, why stress?

    Careless attitude pays.

    Primal_Alex wrote on October 30th, 2013
    • 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.”

      Tom B-D wrote on October 30th, 2013
  10. 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!

    Jill wrote on October 30th, 2013
  11. 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!

    CM Taylor wrote on October 30th, 2013
  12. 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 fuel for my muscles to outrun the tiger, high cholesterol – important for clotting, healing and repair should you not quite make it!
    If we’re never out of these changed states of physiology though, that’s when you start to break down, no matter what you tell yourself. Get some downtime, relax, meditate, whatever slows your mind.

    Spencer wrote on October 30th, 2013
  13. 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.

    Catherine wrote on October 30th, 2013
  14. Great article, thanks! Just wondering about cortisol though, isn’t that always produced in a stress response and isn’t that always bad news?

    Roël McMahon wrote on October 30th, 2013
    • 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.

      Beth wrote on October 30th, 2013
  15. 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…!

    tom Long Island wrote on October 30th, 2013
    • Amen

      melv wrote on October 30th, 2013
    • Check out Mr Money Mustache. You can probably spend a lot less money than you currently do.

      Sofie wrote on November 6th, 2013
  16. 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!

    bamboo wrote on October 30th, 2013
  17. Definitive answers for this ‘it’s good for you/ bad for you world’. Thank you again Mr. Sisson :)

    billyacid wrote on October 30th, 2013
  18. 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.

    Britt wrote on October 30th, 2013
  19. 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, OK, but let’s first remove the two jobs, three kids, and the lack of money. I’m not saying you can’t try to make it a priority but maybe you are spread so thin that this moves down on the priority list.

    I get faking it till you make it because this is something I have to do a lot and for the most part it works.

    Again, this article seems a little one sided.

    Jenny wrote on October 30th, 2013
    • Become Anitfragile. Great book by Nassim Taleb.

      Nocona wrote on October 30th, 2013
      • 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!

        Paleo Bon Rurgundy wrote on October 30th, 2013
      • Love, love, love Anti-fragile. It’s changed my world view and given me an existential crisis. Gotta love that!

        Madeleine wrote on October 30th, 2013
    • 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.

      Wafaa wrote on October 30th, 2013
  20. 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!

    tom Long Island wrote on October 30th, 2013
  21. 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 while driving, while shopping in an insanely busy natural foods store, etc. it took a year or two to really dial it down, but now i drive like a zen master, shop doing deep breathing exercises, and wander midtown manhattan like a taoist floating in a rushing river. i have LOTS of work to do on taming or reframing emotional stresses, but the daily stuff doesn’t phase me. it IS possible.

    also, i think the whole point of this is to listen to your body, and then talk back to it. the stress response is real. ignoring it will only compound it. and thinking ‘oh shit, i’m stressed!’ will only compound it. but saying to yourself, ‘hmmm, i’m stressed. thanks for telling me, body. what’s this about? is there anything i can do to address or mitigate it?’ that tells your body that it’s ok to chill. that you’re on it and will take care of it. i imagine that can only help. i’ve been learning through listening that you can actually have a convo with your body. and that once you start listening it will tell you more and more.

    jenn wrote on October 30th, 2013
    • 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.

      Luke wrote on October 30th, 2013
    • I love your “talking to your body” method!

      Charlie wrote on October 30th, 2013
  22. Who cares?


    Krish wrote on October 30th, 2013
    • Hahaha love your comment :)

      Justine wrote on October 30th, 2013
  23. 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.

    Krish wrote on October 30th, 2013
  24. 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 to stuff anymore as a result and I handle life with all its ups and downs a lot better than most people I know. When I start to handle things less well, I realize there is something more going on and I can seek it out and address it. Knowledge and attitude really are quite powerful.

    Stephanie wrote on October 30th, 2013
  25. 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 had here is a case where just about everyone was stressing because just about everyone stresses before tests. THen you told half of them they would do better because of the stress and they believed it. Therefore, they believed they would do better. I think it’s FAR too early to say this experiment shows that stress is good for you in general as long as your attitude is better.

    I think it shows that good attitude is good for you even in stressful situations. I think it also showed that those with a better attitude had a DIFFERENT KIND of stress response, dilated instead of constricted vessels. But did the experiment have a control group of unstressed people taking the test? Nope (could be they could not think of a clear way to do that). I would have liked to see unstressed people as compared to the stressed groups as maybe they would have done just as good or better than the positive outlook stress group. I will need to see plenty of evidence that positive outlook stressed types outperform unstressed types (and different types of tasks will also need to be looked at) before I will be ready to embrace stress THAT much! ;-P

    Eva wrote on October 30th, 2013
  26. “Stressing over stress is what makes stress so stressful.”
    -Mark Sisson

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

    Chris Smith wrote on October 30th, 2013
    • And I’m sure he coudn’t stress that enough.

      Nocona wrote on October 30th, 2013
  27. @ 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 to be hooked up to a machine to use the techniques – but seeing your physiology shift is a real convincer.

    Others mentioned EFT (emotional freedom technique). Well worth checking out. I recommend going to the source, Gary Craig. There is a free explaination and tutorial at: If you’ll Google EFT you’ll find a lot of people who have copy-catted Gary’s work, often with out attribution and without the care he brings to it. You’ll do better learning from Gary and his daughter.

    Jake wrote on October 30th, 2013
    • 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 a sense of calm and clarity that arises from a meditation practice.

      Thank you for sharing the HeartMath info. Very interesting and useful. I have a free app that measures my heart rate (from Huffington Post) and do use it when I can feel my heart rate rising in response to something, usually something stupid. What you posted is much more sophisticated. Thanks for the lead.

      Juli wrote on October 31st, 2013
  28. Any thoughts on using tryptophan or 5-HTP … Or GABA?

    Oolichan wrote on October 30th, 2013
    • 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.

      Jake wrote on October 30th, 2013
    • 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.

      CJ wrote on October 30th, 2013
  29. If this really works, I’ll be a new man! n=1, starting now!

    Tom wrote on October 30th, 2013
  30. Great article!

    Michelle wrote on October 30th, 2013
  31. 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 wrote on October 30th, 2013
  32. Keep calm
    Carry on

    Lynn wrote on October 30th, 2013
  33. 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 and self knowledge are good tools in using stress.

    Sarah Lee wrote on October 30th, 2013
  34. It’s not acute stress that kills you, but chronic unremitting stress…

    Scott UK wrote on October 30th, 2013
    • 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.

      Pure Hapa wrote on October 30th, 2013
  35. 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.

    Dano wrote on October 30th, 2013
  36. I think I’ll take it a little easier on the commute home as that’s a huge source of stress for me.

    Rob wrote on October 30th, 2013
  37. Modern corollary?: Help the old lady who lives across the street secure her open WIFI.

    Paleo Bon Rurgundy wrote on October 30th, 2013
    • 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.

      Pure Hapa wrote on October 30th, 2013

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