The object of this blog is weight control, living healthy, living long and living well. It’s under that last descriptor, living well, that I wanted to write about stress.
Who hasn’t heard the words “Stress’ll kill ya?” Who doubts those words? No one and no one. But who really understands what they mean? Very few of us.
How does stress kill/hurt you? I knew that under stress our bodies secreted adrenaline and I kind of thought that there must be some damage in too much of that shooting through our system. But, that was the extent of my understanding of stress and its impact on us.
I recently got an offer from The Great Courses for the course “Stress and Your Body.” It seemed a good time to find out more and who better to learn it from? I have written about The Great Courses previously as I love to take their courses.
Illustration from the cover of Stress and Your Body
The stress course is taught by Professor Robert Sapolsky, Ph.D., award winning teacher, author and winner of a MacArthur Foundation ‘genius’ grant. He wrote Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers: A Guide to Stress-Related Diseases and Coping (W.H. Freeman, 1995), which was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Award.
Before going on further about the course, I want to include another excellent summary of how stress affects the body. This is by Dr. Susan Lark, MD on the Healthy Net site.
“Your emotional and physical reactions to stress are partly determined by the sensitivity of your sympathetic nervous system. This system produces the fight or flight reaction in response to stress and excitement, speeding up and heightening the pulse rate, respiration, muscle tension, glandular function, and circulation of the blood. If you have recurrent anxiety symptoms, either major or minor lifestyle and emotional upsets may cause an overreaction of your sympathetic system. If you have an especially stressful life, your sympathetic nervous system may always be poised to react to a crisis, putting you in a state of constant tension. In this mode, you tend to react to small stresses the same way you would react to real emergencies. The energy that accumulates in the body to meet this “emergency” must be discharged in order to bring your body back into balance. Repeated episodes of the fight or flight reaction deplete your energy reserves and, if they continue, cause a downward spiral that can lead to emotional burnout and eventually complete exhaustion. You can break this spiral only by learning to manage stress in a way that protects and even increases your energy level.”
I am about halfway through the course and I can attest that Professor Sapolsky is a gifted teacher and lecturer. He simplifies heavy medical terms and concepts so that the layman, me, never feels left behind.