Tips for coping with stress from rats, baboons and other animals

I'm a geek- I freely admit it. One of my new favorite geeky activities is iTunes U, which contains a bunch of free lectures and videos on virtually any subject under the sun. I listen to these a lot on my way into work, as they make the ride go a lot quicker. Yesterday and today, I listened to two lectures by neurobiologist Robert Sapolsky, author of the book Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers.

Sapolsky researchers specifically the neuro-psycho-biology of the stress response- what the physiological outcomes are, and what psychological and environmental factors can mediate this response. And his research, combined with a rich background provided by other scientists, has led him to figure out a bunch of very basic tips to help us cope with stress:

  • An outlet or hobby. Rats who could gnaw on a piece of wood after receiving a very mild shock didn't develop any stress-related diseases, while those with no way to "cope" with the stress did develop diseases (ulcers, high blood pressure, etc).
  • Predictability. If the rats received a brief warning that the shock was going to happen, even if they couldn't avoid it, they did not develop stress-related diseases.
  • Sense of control. This one is pretty self-explanatory.
  • An ability to tell the important stressors from the not-so-important ones. This one came from Sapolsky's own work with baboons. If male baboons reacted to every minor threat from another male as needing a massive, aggressive response, they had higher levels of stress hormones.
  • A sense that things are improving. Also pretty self-explanatory.
  • Friends. This, says Sapolsky, is perhaps the most important mediator of stress. Cloning and medication and all of these advances are saving human lives, but having a friend to talk to, to share things with, to understand what it is you're going through, may be the most live-saving of all.
Maybe this is why blogging is so therapeutic for me- it incorporates all of these elements. I still have a lot of work to do in order to better incorporate these ideas into my everyday life, but I think these are really basic, really important elements to making it through the day intact.

What do you think? Anything to add to the list?

To listen to these lectures, go to iTunes and do a search for "Robert Sapolsky". The two I listened to were "Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers" and "Stress and Coping: What Baboons Can Teach Us." They're an hour each but extremely entertaining.

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Cammy said...

Ooooh I heart Sapolsky!!! Have you read The Trouble with Testosterone or A Primate's Memoir??? I loved them. I haven't gotten a copy of Monkeyluv yet, though. There aren't many neurobiologists that actually do fieldwork on wild animals, he gets definitely points for coolness on top of everything else.

I think iTunesU is a great feature, hopefully many people will take advantage of it. also has lectures you can download, you can either watch the videos online or subscribe to them as podcasts. I am listening to a Yale course on the philosophy of death that is really fascinating.

Beadie @ What I Ate Yesterday said...

So glad I found your blog! I am recovering from binge eating disorder and I make jewelry, too. I am about to open an etsy shop of my own!!I can't wait to read more of your blog.

Carrie Arnold said...


I have read parts of A Primate's Memoir, as I bought it as a gift for a friend and flipped through it before I wrapped it. If I had gotten my crap together and bought it a few days earlier, I might have finished it before her birthday! :)

I will have to look up

Carrie Arnold said...


Good luck with your Etsy shop! It's both challenging and fun for me, and it helps me cope with the time I would normally devote to ED.

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I'm a science writer, a jewelry design artist, a bookworm, a complete geek, and mom to a wonderful kitty. I am also recovering from a decade-plus battle with anorexia nervosa. I believe that complete recovery is possible, and that the first step along that path is full nutrition.

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nour·ish: (v); to sustain with food or nutriment; supply with what is necessary for life, health, and growth; to cherish, foster, keep alive; to strengthen, build up, or promote


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