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

biggerthanstressThink 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!

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. 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!

    David Andrews wrote on October 30th, 2013
  2. I, have high cortisol…so, I appreciate your stress article…I will rethink my situation..Thanks

    Terry Bishop wrote on October 30th, 2013
  3. I think if we can practice thinking positive thoughts every day, our whole outlook can change and that can’t be bad.

    Barb wrote on October 30th, 2013
  4. 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 and now” or “be in the moment.”

    2. Get things out of your head and into a productivity app or on the desk of a personal assistant. This way you can focus on doing things instead of worrying about what you may have missed. This lets you free your mind from remembering where everything is and what to do next. Instead you can re-focus on getting things done. Most of us worry about tasks falling through the cracks. When you have a good system in place, that’s one worry to cross off your list.

    Dmitri wrote on October 30th, 2013
  5. Great tips, using a lot of these teqniques already and it really makes a big difference.

    Rgds,
    Mark

    Mark S wrote on October 30th, 2013
  6. 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.

    Allison wrote on October 30th, 2013
  7. 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!

    Kurt wrote on October 30th, 2013
  8. Nice article.

    No doesn’t work with the type of stress that is clearly identifiable and measurable, such as stress induced from overtraining, eating disorders, or a chronic sedentary lifestyle. A positive mental outlook can only go so far when hormonal imbalances and other measurable variables dominate.

    Avishek wrote on October 30th, 2013
  9. I am a Health Teacher and have taught a unit on Stress for many years. You bring up some great points! One of my favorite “words” to live by: “Don’t allow perception to become deception.” I tell my students that stress is a choice. It’s all how you perceive that life situation. Of course, “easier said than done!”

    Your past experiences, self confidence, how you are “hard wired”(genetics),and hormonal level play huge roles in that “perception” of that life event. The key is to not let the cortisol stay in you constantly; therefore, you must rationalize/forgive and get back into positive feelings over negative ones. It’s that constant cortisol release from perceived threats that do the damage!

    Charlie wrote on October 30th, 2013
  10. My grandmother turns 100 this week, she is still of sound mind and physical health. During her 100 years she has experienced many stressful situations but she is wonderfully philosophical and calm about things….probably got a lot to do with her longevity.

    Peachfoo wrote on October 30th, 2013
  11. Eight little words – which summarise much of what Mark has said – which work for me and which remove stress in most person-to-person situations:

    “Some will, some won’t, so what, who’s next?”.

    For stressful non-person events try “Some things work, some things don’t, so what, what’s next?”.

    Both versions are great for productivity and for moving on.

    Johnny, New Zealand.

    Johnny Youatt wrote on October 30th, 2013
  12. I think it is simpler to re-evaluate your stress response when the stressor is obvious, such as having to give a speech or taking a driving test. What about when the stress is inappropriate as experienced in anxiety sufferers? what about feeling sick, shaking, pounding heart, scattered thoughts and shaking hands happen when you are sat at your desk at work? and that overwhelming feeling of ‘need to get outa here’ is countered by your brains reaction ‘you cannot leave the office, you look stupid, what will people think’. Cognitive rethinking in this situation is not so straight forward.

    How can any of those reactions be reinterpreted as preparedness when there is nothing to prepare for?

    Abigail wrote on October 30th, 2013
  13. I first heard ‘lizard brain’ a couple years ago reading Linchpin by Seth Godin. Very funny. And i think it helped me.
    But one question i had was,
    How do i know when it is the ‘LizardBrain’
    talking to me or the real me !?

    Bob wrote on October 30th, 2013
  14. Mark,

    You said, “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.” Absolutely brilliant, thanks for crafting that pair of sentences. So true…of course with that sort of power comes a great deal of responsibility, but hey, I’m game!

    Peter

    Peter wrote on October 30th, 2013
    • Peter, thank you for pulling out this quote. I have found that I believe that “I’m only as good as what I do” and have pretty much been tormented by living that way (and largely being rewarded for it) while often being told that’s unhealthy and I need to make peace with some true self. This seems like a very modern problem which makes me wonder what the paleo perspective is. Perhaps “you eat what you kill.” I would love to see a longer post about this.

      Juli wrote on October 31st, 2013
  15. Lissa Rankin’s book Mind Over Medicine is all about reducing stress for health. She’s got some Ted talk videos too.

    tom wrote on October 30th, 2013
  16. Oh my god, how funny to read one of the article you cited and just happen to notice that I was quoted as the lead author of the study! We did that work on human alarm pheromones, showing that the brain detects fear in others by sweat alone.

    Lilianne R. Mujica-Parodi wrote on October 30th, 2013
  17. My Austin Texas brother-in-law switched to Zen driving when he realized the risk he was taking just driving work. Now he counts how many vehicles he can let in during his commute. I’ve made the change as well. Well worth it.

    Paula wrote on October 30th, 2013
  18. Suggest reading ‘Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers”

    Tom wrote on October 30th, 2013
  19. We are all hard-wired somewhat differently, and inherit different body chemistry’s. The reticular formation of some people filters stimulus quite a bit (thrill seekers, shrug things off) and in other people the filter does not work well (sensitive to stimulus, overreact to situations) and in addition for some people their neurotransmitters are efficiently utilized, in others not so much (leading to potential anxiety, depression or panic attacks). My point is Mark’s observations and recommendations are excellent, but to add to the list, if you tend to get more stressed out than others due to certain factors, don’t beat yourself up, it may be in part to how you are “bio-configured”. Just focus on re-mediating your situation as best you can. Now … I will attempt to take my own advice. :)

    George wrote on October 30th, 2013
  20. Thank you for a wonderful reminder….if you are supposed to be meeting deadlines, GET TO WORK!! I needed this. I am a student of the subconscious mind, have been reading some books lately related to this, studying and using meditation, EFT, etc a while, and they all help with the subconscious messages problem. I have discovered that whatever I imagine, especially in contemplation, can be expressed in my real life. I realize there may be many skeptics, but I agree that if we give stress the chance, it will steal our joy and peace in life. Envisioning the life I desire and TAKING THE STEPS to achieve it have brought me great happiness! Maybe not in an instant, though that is not out of the question. Thank you for reminding me to do the work….I am in grad school and secretly whining to myself about being “too busy”….a terrible message for my conscious mind to send along to my subconscious. I can do this….and so can you!

    Susan wrote on October 30th, 2013
    • Patting you on the back for making personal application, nice!
      Thanks, we can all use your encouraging example.

      2Rae wrote on October 30th, 2013
  21. As for financial stress, I found a way to eliminate it.

    I became unable to pay back a credit card. I owe them ten thousand dollars.

    Guess what? I have no way to pay, so I don’t.

    When their letters come, I file them away.

    They called my phone 15 times a day, so I disconnected my phone.

    They destroyed my credit report, and I don’t care.

    I honestly tried to pay them. I can’t. I simply don’t worry about it, because credit cards are unsecured debt. They can’t take anything from me. I don’t have anything, anyway! I mean literally, I own NOTHING.

    I was once worth a million dollars, now I think I have 23 bucks in a checking account. That’s it. SO WHAT?

    I have no stress. It is that simple. Life is different now in many ways, but a lot less stressful. All those things I thought I needed were useless… they caused stress.

    So, to eliminate credit card debt stress… just forget it!

    Rich wrote on October 30th, 2013
    • Ok in theory, but in principle they hunt you till the end of time to pay it back.

      Emily wrote on October 31st, 2013
  22. Great article. Removing the stress about stress is a good start. The big one I found, which I included in my course, was that stress shuts down your intuition. Intuition is your portal to your most wise thoughts. When it’s not working and you are stressed, you have more accidents, say the wrong thing, do the wrong thing and make really bad decisions.

    Becoming aware of stress as soon as it arises and working towards a more peaceful way of Being will bring back your intuition and allow the wise thoughts in which makes life work a whole lot better.

    Annabelle Drumm wrote on October 30th, 2013
  23. With apologies to those of you that tired of these lyrics co-written and sung by Bobby McFerrin, and released in September, 1988, which title is taken from a famous quote by Indian mystic Meher Baba who would encourage his followers to “Do your best. Then, don’t worry, be happy in my love. I will help you”:

    “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” (sans refrains)

    Here’s a little song I wrote
    You might want to sing it note for note
    Don’t worry, be happy
    In every life we have some trouble
    But when you worry you make it double
    Don’t worry, be happy
    Don’t worry, be happy now

    Ain’t got no place to lay your head
    Somebody came and took your bed
    Don’t worry, be happy
    The landlord say your rent is late
    He may have to litigate
    Don’t worry, be happy

    Ain’t got no cash, ain’t got no style
    Ain’t got no gal to make you smile
    But don’t worry, be happy
    ‘Cause when you worry, your face will frown
    And that will bring everybody down
    So don’t worry, be happy
    Don’t worry, be happy now

    Now there is this song I wrote
    I hope you learned it note for note like good little children
    Don’t worry, be happy
    Listen to what I say
    In your life expect some trouble
    When you worry you make it double
    Don’t worry, be happy, be happy now

    (I have found this to be a difficult song to get out of my head)

    Warren wrote on October 30th, 2013
  24. Mark, your corollary remark has me thinking during game six of the World Series, which is a New England sin. There are SO MANY idioms in the English language that are agrarian based still used that most people have no direct link to. Farming used to be the norm so the idioms are rooted in common, well known observations. Today not so much. Often I snicker when the government releases “non farm payroll” numbers. The majority no longer interfaces, never mind works on, a farm. I wonder if tech idioms will naturally circulate and create new colloquial memes.

    Paleo Bon Rurgundy wrote on October 30th, 2013
  25. Hi Mark. I’ve been paleo/primal since 1998, and I’m a big fan of how you (and others) have helped make this movement much smarter and more based in science and reason (and fun). I’ve recommended your site many times.

    But as someone whose day job is helping people challenge the way we think about stress, I think this post is off the mark and potentially misleading to the MDA community for a number of reasons.

    First, the Health Psychology journal article you cited on perception, stress, and mortality is misinterpreted. The article doesn’t prove that “In people who don’t see stress as a health threat, stress does not appear to increase mortality.” It says that people who experience a lot of stress AND those who see their stress as a health threat experience higher mortality. But the study points out that this doesn’t mean that the perception is all that matters — it could just be that the most stressed out and unhealthy people were the ones who noticed how stressed they were in the survey (reverse causality). There is plenty of other evidence in the stress research literature that stress alone, separate from the awareness of that stress, is physiologically harmful.

    Secondly, I completely agree that perception is incredibly important, but I think you focus on perception at the wrong link in the chain. It’s not the perception of stress symptoms that we need to challenge ourselves on. It’s the fact that stress itself is produced as a function of perception in the first place. Stress doesn’t come from one’s circumstances. It comes from one’s thoughts about those circumstances.

    So instead of suggesting that people think differently about their bodily changes during challenges, I’d want you to encourage people to think differently about the challenges themselves. There are no “stressors” in the world. Even during war, there are children playing. Reappraisal or reframing is key, but most people need a better way to do this than simply being told not to sweat the small stuff or avoiding saying they’re stressed. There are much better tools out there.

    I see that a few posters have recommended EFT and meditation. I’d like to mention one more tool — a process called ActivInsight that folks can learn free at resilienceacademy.com or through the book The Myth of Stress, which looks harder at how stress really works. Disclosure: It’s my site and my book, and I’m happy to talk to any fellow primal friends about this subject.

    Andrew Bernstein wrote on October 30th, 2013
    • Thanks for the good comments Andrew. I generally agree. However, I’d also like to thank Mark for a nice post that has made me think about the subject even more.

      My view is that stress (especially what we mean by stress today) is unnatural. We shouldn’t have stress. Sure, if a bus is coming towards you, or you see a bear, or a lion, you’re going to want your body to be quickly activated to perform at a high level. But this should be just for a limited time. Apart from these real situations of stress, we should be stress free.

      As an example, in Mark’s post, he talks about stress caused by “Mustering up the courage to ask a girl or guy out”. This shouldn’t cause any stress. It’s because we’re worried about being rejected that we might feel stress. It’s the thoughts of what “could” happen that we form in our conscious mind that trigger some sort of emotional response in our subconscious mind. That’s what causes the stress. And worse still, it becomes a chronic form of stress.

      In today’s world our bodies are subjected to so much toxic stress, and stress from severely under-nourished diets. Then we add to this a whole lot of artificial standards that we “have” to live up to and our conscious brains are often awash with negative thoughts.

      If we could get ourselves to a state where we have zero negative thoughts, we really couldn’t have chronic stress. And doing this is much easier if reduce the toxins we’re exposed to and increase the nutritional quality of our food.

      And Andrew, I’ll check out your book and website.

      Peter Whiting wrote on October 31st, 2013
  26. This made me think of women in labour. Women who see their contractions as their body’s means of getting the baby out and aren’t afraid usually cope wonderfully. The ones who just see the whole thing as a painful experience that they’re terrified of tend to struggle. Same situation, different perspective, very different outcome.

    Leah wrote on October 30th, 2013
  27. Great article and am LOVING the comments as so many add their insights and experiences.

    I had a very stressful job in a hospital on the busiest unit. I went home absolutely SPENT every night. I finally was able to step back and analyze my stress responses to the job. Becoming mindful helped me untangle my emotions which meant I was able to think clearly about my work load and how to strategize to keep stress from overwhelming my mind, body and soul. I wrote Keep Calm post it notes as my mantra and would literally stop in my tracks to Just Breathe when yet another work crisis threatened to topple me. Practicing this kind of mindfulness helped me stop reacting and instead I began responding with (surprise!) a more effective approach to solving crises with a calm head and heart.

    The human brain is a rock star !!

    Pam Hogeweide wrote on October 30th, 2013
  28. Suggested reading: http://www.amazon.ca/Well-Stressed-Manage-Stress-Before/dp/1118273605

    The “primal blueprint” of stress.

    Eric wrote on October 30th, 2013
  29. Thank you for expanding on this never ending topic. I heard Kelly McConigal’s Ted Talk last month and felt so much better after the talk. Yet, as I filled my days with non-stop work, I soon forgot her findings and suggestions. Shame on me.

    Greatly appreciate your reminder and added perspective!

    Lydia wrote on October 30th, 2013
  30. Great post. I attended a road traffic accident today – I had to stop and get off the road as the guy driving in front hit a lamp post, crumpling his car. The adrenaline surge, tunnel vision enabled me to avoid crashing myself and then call 911 and help get the guy out the wreck then administer first aid and talk to the 911 operator while the ambulance came. I was calm and focused, time stood still.

    Afterwards I started shaking. My friends worried that I was traumatised. This article is a great reminder that my body chemistry was doing its job in a high stress situation but that is a good thing and no lasting effects – I am not traumatised, I just experienced a normal reaction to an an out-of-the-normal situation and I am blessed and lucky my healthy reactions got me to stop the car safely and assist the casualty!

    (He’s been discharged, I just rang the hospital! Hooray!)

    Rachel wrote on October 30th, 2013
  31. I’m not so sure about this. I love the idea of it, but it has decidedly not been my experience. I come from a family of folks who don’t really stress about stress. We often don’t even notice we’re having it. And as a direct result, I ended up with a massive adrenal imbalance that lasted for years and still flares up when I’m under stress. Frequently that stress is so minor and insignificant to me that I have a hard time even figuring out what I’m stressed about. Yes, meditation helps. And ACKNOWLEDGING the stress helps. But I do get frustrated that my body now reacts to the slightest stress with such a dramatic response, regardless of my cognitive perception and valuation of it.

    Jaeden wrote on October 30th, 2013
  32. One of your best articles ever, and it feels really invaluable to me right now. Thank you.

    Yanni wrote on October 30th, 2013
  33. Does anyone have any advice for phobias? I have developed a severe dental phobia about getting numb and gagging and suffocating. I have severe gag reflex, and now it is associated to being numb. Im trying to desensitive with lozenges that numb, but the thought of getting the novacaine haunts me…I need a root canal, 2 crowns, and several cavities. Im considering sedation, but i dont like the fact that I am so terrified. Ive had crowns done before and it didnt go well but I survived. Now its full blown phoboriphic. I really think gradual exposure is my only hope but I have yet to propose that to a dentist. Even on nitrous I freaked and started screaming and hitting once they were going to numb me.

    Mat wrote on October 30th, 2013
  34. Lowering your cortisol? Is it as easy as taking plain, simple Vitamin C (ascorbic acid)

    Psychopharmacology (Berl). 2002 Jan;159(3):319-24. Epub 2001 Nov 20.
    A randomized controlled trial of high dose ascorbic acid for reduction of blood pressure, cortisol, and subjective responses to psychological stress…

    RESULTS:

    Compared to the placebo group, the ascorbic acid group had less systolic blood pressure (an increase of 23 versus 31 mmHg), diastolic blood pressure, and subjective stress responses to the TSST; and also had faster salivary cortisol recovery (but not smaller overall cortisol response). Cortisol response to 1 microg ACTH, and reported side-effects during the trial did not differ between groups. Plasma ascorbic acid level at the end of the trial but not pre-trial was associated with reduced stress reactivity of systolic blood pressure, diastolic blood pressure, and subjective stress, and with greater salivary cortisol recovery.

    CONCLUSIONS:

    Treatment with high-dose sustained-release ascorbic acid palliates blood pressure, cortisol, and subjective response to acute psychological stress. These effects are not attributable to modification of adrenal responsiveness.

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11862365

    Markus I wrote on October 30th, 2013
  35. This was insanely interesting. The last year I have found that the right way to do things is completely contrary to what is generally recommended in more or less every major health aspect of my life:
    1. Food (Low Carb instead of Low Fat)
    2. Workout (Higher ratio Low Intensity Training over High Intensity)
    3. And now also Mental attitude towards stress (Embrace it instead of fight it)

    But does this mean that for example frequent releases of cortisol from stress isn’t harmful over an extended period of time or is does the body release less of these substances due to your mental attitude towards stress? What are the biochemical truths behind this?

    Dave wrote on October 30th, 2013
  36. Great read! I agree with the hypothesis and I’ve tested it out a few times myself. It boils down to what state of consciousness one can achieve whenever things ‘go wrong’. By simply getting present / becoming aware of your thoughts, emotions, physical response (i.e. sweaty palms, cold sweat, restlessness etc.) you notice your reactions. In that moment you are distinct from your emotional and physical reactions – you recognize that it’s a response (i.e. you are watching yourself and you are distinct from those reactions).
    Simply doing that will transfer your focus from ‘being stressed’ to the task at hand or the present moment.
    Books on spirituality have been saying this for years! It’s great to understand the physiology behind it too.

    Sid wrote on October 30th, 2013
  37. Great article. However it only seems to address occasional bursts of stress in response to occasional extreme circumstances – rather, it’s chronic continuous or continual stress that’s the real enemy and much harder to deal with.

    Continual stress is a different thing – one which is probably more severe over time and which avoidance/reduction in exposure is probably more advisable than acceptance. I’d be really interested in an article from you which focuses on this topic and what other people think?

    Ngawang Kunzang wrote on October 31st, 2013
    • BANG!! cf. upper post post when it finally exits ‘moderation’ hell. Peace.

      I ain’t takin’ no prisoners on this one & you are totally bang on!

      Sorry, I cuss a lot. That’s why you may need to wait a day

      Iluvatar wrote on October 31st, 2013
  38. Normally I find Mark’s articles to be good, sensible, practical takes on what are sometimes complex issues. This article, however, hugely misses the point. The stress response in natural systems is invoked periodically – i.e. in response to critical events that require emergency responses. The problem with stress in modern human life is that it is SUSTAINED. This causes tons of well documented problems (and not just in humans – see Sapolsky’s research on stress in baboons and other animals).

    Jordan wrote on October 31st, 2013
  39. A good quote my dad sent me:

    My quote of the day, “Worry is like a rocking horse, it gves you something to do but never gets you anywhere” have a stress free day xo

    Steve wrote on October 31st, 2013
  40. A good quote my dad sent me:

    My quote of the day, “Worry is like a rocking horse, it gves you something to do but never gets you anywhere” have a stress free day xo

    Steve wrote on October 31st, 2013

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