7 min read ⌚
The Acclaimed Guide to Stress, Stress-Related Diseases, and Coping
This is not just another book about stress.
In fact, it’s probably the only one you should read.
Since it’s written by a renowned scientist and a brilliant science writer and since it will not only expose many of the other stress-related books as fakes, but it will also offer you science-backed tips on how to control your stress levels.
And since, let’s face it, there’s not another book on the market which actually explains “Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers.”
Who Should Read “Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers”? And Why?
Even if it certainly looks that way – trust us – we didn’t oversell “Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers” in the introduction above.
So, if you feel under a lot of stress and want to understand its origins and learn a few coping mechanisms – this is the book we recommend.
It’s a book we most warmly recommend to anyone who is even remotely curious about human behavioral biology and the inner workings of the human’s body.
About Robert Sapolsky
Robert M. Sapolsky is an American neuroendocrinologist, a professor of biology and a widely revered science writer.
Born in 1957 in Brooklyn, New York to Soviet immigrants (hence the surname), Sapolsky obtained a Ph.D. in neuroendocrinology at Rockefeller University, after spending some time in Kenya to study the social behavior of baboons and a few years more working in the lab of noted endocrinologist Bruce McEwan.
Dubbed “one of the best science writers of our time” by none other than Oliver Sacks, Sapolsky has authored seven bestselling books, including “The Trouble with Testosterone,” “A Primate Memoir,” and “Behave.”
He is currently the John A. and Cynthia Fry Gunn Professor at Stanford University
“Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers PDF Summary”
All animals – humans notwithstanding – possess basically the same stress-response mechanism, grounded in something aptly called the “fight-or-flight syndrome.”
“Aptly” because we practically don’t need to explain it: when in the presence of great physical danger, your only two choices are to either fight back or flee.
Now, if you are a lion attacked by another lion, there’s a good chance that you’ll try not to be a coward; however, if you are a zebra and you happen to notice a lion lurking in your vicinity, well, you better run!
Strangely enough, as far as the biology of the response is concerned, it matters not whether you fight back or flee: in either case, vast amounts of energy are delivered to your muscles, so that you are able to fight or run away.
If you want the response of your body broken down a bit, here’s an explanation of what the fight-or-flight syndrome actually does inside you!
First, your liver and your fat cells release glucose, fats, and simple proteins, and feed the muscles you’re going to need the most during the next few minutes; so, if you are a zebra, you suddenly get super leg muscles!
At the same time, your blood pressure, your breathing rate and your heart rate increase dramatically in an attempt to acquire and send more nutrients and oxygen throughout your body.
Chances are you’re not going to eat anything or have sex with someone while a lion is chasing you down the African savannah, so – in an attempt to conserve all the energy it possibly can – your body shuts down both your digestive and reproductive functions.
What happens next is the most interesting part if you have that misfortune of being a human: the minute the danger passes, the stress-response mechanisms shut down, and everything’s suddenly back to normal, regardless of the fact that you had been in a life-or-death situation just a few moments ago.
And why is this interesting?
Well, because, as Sapolsky notes, even though “zebras and lions may see trouble coming in the next minute and mobilize a stress-response” they “can’t get stressed about events far in the future.”
So, in a way, their fight-or-flight apparatus is finely tuned to their ways of life.
Because as great as it is to have super legs when you’re running for your life, it’s all but pointless to keep having them – and have problems eating and reproducing – even when you’re trying to calmly lie down or graze in the savannah!
Sustained or repeated stress can disrupt our bodies in seemingly endless ways… Many of the damaging diseases of slow accumulation can be either caused or made far worse by stress.
That’s where we, the humans, come in.
You see, we have – fortunately – developed the very same mechanisms to cope with danger, but we have – unfortunately? – developed a highly complex brain as well!
We get stressed by a job interview or the taxes, by a tight deadline or an expected visit from our parents – the same way a zebra does when attacked by a lion; and, what’s even worse, we do that not in the immediate presence of this danger, but way in advance of it!
So, basically, we have mastered the art of wasting our body’s energy on the wrong places and at the wrong time while leaving some other parts of us completely bereaved of energy when they need it the most.
Let’s go back to our example with the zebra.
If the stress-response mechanism causes its digestion and reproductive functions to shut down, what do you think it will happen to it if this fight-or-flight syndrome grows into something of a chronic nature?
You’ve guessed it: serious, serious problems!
Now you probably get why zebras can’t get stress-induced ulcers and why men regularly get them!
And you finally understand why you had problems maintaining your erection that night before the interview for that coveted job.
Key Lessons from “Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers”
1. Stress-Response Mechanism = Fight-or-Flight Syndrome
2. How to Treat Stress: Few Practical Bits of Advice
3. Stress Is Bad… But Let’s Not Stress Out Over It
Stress-Response Mechanism = Fight-or-Flight Syndrome
Humans and animals share the same fight-or-flight mechanism.
In a nutshell, this means that in the presence of great physical danger, our bodies react in much the similar manner: they release vast amounts of energy and direct it to the most important centers at the moment to prepare us to either fight back or flee.
This is basically what stress is.
However, humans react in much the same way even in the absence of danger, namely, even if merely thinking about it.
And that’s very bad.
How to Treat Stress: Few Practical Bits of Advice
Stress can be reduced – but it’s impossible to eliminate it altogether.
There are no magical cures for it, but there are a few things that seem to help:
#1. Exercise: self-explanatory; demonstrated to reduce stress in numerous studies.
#2. Socialization: the more time you spend with friendly people – the right people – the less time your body will think that it needs to fight someone or flee from somebody else.
#3. Predictability: as we explained above, only humans can stress over future events; which is especially dreadful, since sometimes these events don’t happen at all; so, try to establish predictability when you can so that you can prepare your body in advance.
#4. The 80/20 Rule: Be aware that the first 20% of your efforts should reduce about 80% of your stress.
#5. Find an outlet: find something that gets you back to normal; it can be anything depending on the person; in our case, is playing or watching soccer.
#6. Serenity now: OK, that didn’t work that well for Frank Costanza! But something similar worked more than perfect for both the Stoics and the numerous people who know the Serenity Prayer by heart.
Stress Is Bad… But Let’s Not Stress Out Over It
There is a strong relationship between stress and some illnesses and a moderate one in the case of some other diseases.
However, stress is almost always just a part of the equation.
So, please stop giving money to people who say otherwise:
Everything bad in human health now is not caused by stress, nor is it in our power to cure ourselves of all our worst medical nightmares merely by reducing stress and thinking healthy thoughts full of courage and spirit and love. Would it were so. And shame on those who would profit from selling this view.
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“Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers Quotes”
Our Critical Review
We absolutely adore Robert M. Sapolsky!
So, it’s kind of difficult for us to be objective about any of his books.
We won’t be about this one either: already in its third edition, this is far and away the best book on stress out there!
Sapolsky knows his stuff, and he has a way with both words and images. So, there’s not only plenty you’ll find enjoyable here – but there’s also plenty you’ll never forget.