Baboons and Office Workers (Michael Santangelo)

Yesterday, I happened upon a National Geographic video entitled Stress: Portrait of a Killer. Since we’ve been posting about stress and how we handle it, this seemed especially serendipitous. The program deals with two bodies of research – one following troops of baboons, the other following British civil servants. I had to smile at the (not entirely fair) juxtaposition. Interestingly, each body of research had remarkably similar findings, to wit: the higher one is on the totem pole, the fewer stress-related illnesses and problems one has. I guess Mel Brooks was right (though terribly sexist and politically incorrect).

The upshot of the show was that a feeling of control over one’s circumstances is an important determiner of the amount of stress that gets internalized in the form of elevated stress hormones in the blood, decreased immune functioning, more plaque on artery walls, etc. You can watch the entire (hour-long) show here.

Another way to translate these findings, if you don’t happen to be the king, is to discover something that you feel capable in or in charge of, and focus your energy and sense of competence there.

But what did I get personally from all this? A new mantra, of sorts. You see, as explained in the program, the stress response is in existence to protect us in cases of life-threatening events. Otherwise, it’s a waste of adrenaline, and can even become a nasty, habitual state. So, I’ve been going around these last couple of days reminding myself that nothing is trying to kill me right now; I am perfectly safe. (Note: Does not apply when crossing Burlington Street in Iowa City) Without an immediate threat to life and limb, there’s simply no point in being all keyed up. Interestingly, I’ve been basically cool as a cucumber since I started my new mantra.

Give this approach a try. It’s simple and effective. I will chime in with more stress coping strategies later. Ooh-ooh.