Zebras Don’t Need Bailouts Either

Stress much? Running a business? Starting a business? Dow below 7,000, Washington as partisan as ever, banks teetering, and so on.

Zebras don’t get ulcers because their stress reaction was designed to help them run fast when lions are trying to catch them and eat them. It’s biology. And it’s basically the same for all mammals, including us. Except that we get stressed for lots of reasons other than getting chased by lions.

The stress reaction was supposed to be a physical reaction to short-term physical danger. It turns up the adrenalin, turns up the blood pressure, and helps us run like hell to escape the predators. And it works against lions, but not so much against month after month of bad economic news.

It’s hard to believe it’s been almost two years since I posted these two audio lectures on this blog. This post is mostly a repeat, taken from one I did in 2007, before we all needed it.

They were fascinating then, and they seem way more needed and to the point now. Both are by Dr. Robert Sapolsky, who teaches at Stanford University.  Ideally, get out of the office, take a walk, and plug into this. Each is a few minutes short of an hour:

  • Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers
  • Stress and Coping: What Baboons Can Teach Us

As a tidbit, so you believe me and listen to the two lectures, Dr. Sapolsky at one point describes a series of studies subjecting rats to stressful events.  Rats suffered less stress when they had a block of wood to chew on (a hobby).  Rats suffered less stress when they had a smaller rat to be mean to (gulp).  At another point, he talks about how studies in monkeys show that putting a monkey in a new cage is stressful, but it’s less stressful if there’s another monkey that the first monkey recognizes, and more stressful if there’s a new strange monkey in the new cage.  Monkeys apparently suffer stress when subjected to strange groups of monkeys, but the worst stress is when they have no contact with other monkeys at all.

Both of these are available for free at the Stanford on iTunes section of the iTunes store. If you haven’t installed the free iTunes software, I’m sorry, but this is worth it.  You don’t need a Macintosh or even an iPod, but it does take iTunes.  I hope that doesn’t generate stress.  So please go to the Apple iTunes store and search for Stanford, and the health series, and find these two recorded lectures.

And okay, for anybody who really doesn’t want to install iTunes, here they are downloadable by right-clicking the mouse and saving target as a file on your computer. You should go to iTunes, they are free there too, but just in case:

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