Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers

t-zebra_close-sxchu_com-879534_19206261-c_nicolas_raymond.jpgWe weren’t built for this. “This” being a life in which we are constantly in a stress response. That is my key take away from a fascinating book by MacArthur “Genius” Fellow Robert Sapolsky.

In Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers Sapolsky writes that we aren’t built to withstand constant, high levels of stress. And that our bodies break down over time because of it.

If you study animals in the wild, and look at how they use the stress response to survive, you see that it is an extreme measure which turns on and off really quickly. For instance it gives a zebra a massive burst of energy, through which to fight or escape in a time of need. And then the stress is gone, and the zebra goes back to calmly eating grass.
We are also tuned for the wild. And here’s where things go awry: that massive burst of energy gets kicked in many times a day for things that are not life or death. And then it doesn’t turn off! In effect we lose perspective, and are using a lot of energy unnecessarily.

One way forward is to become aware of when and how I get triggered, and be able to bring myself down from that heightened state of energy. I find that when I’m calm, I’m a lot more productive, I make better decisions, and I spend less time later on cleanup and damage control.

There is a much bigger picture as well. Constant high levels of stress on the job can lead to a host of health problems, not to mention problems at home.

Excelling at my work is very important to me: and I think the way to do it is through being centered and focused, rather than anxious and stressed. It sounds obvious, but how many people do it?


Paul Konasewich

© 2008 Paul Konasewich


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