Okay ... First of all, these are just notes, not an essay. I'm saying that, because there are so many excellent papers written on various aspects of stress. My reading on this topic has been enlightening ... I thought I had a pretty good handle on the stress deal, but ... well, I'm really glad I took another close look.
Back, maybe in December, whenever it was that we decided to rid our lives of the clutter that is cable TV, I began this flirtation with intentional viewing ... uh-huh ... documentaries baby. NetFlix and Hulu+ have been added to my nerdy enjoyment of listening to ATC live (which is pretty close to listening to love songs in and of itself). Anyway, whenever this started, it absolutely blew me out of my house slippers (no, not really, I am a barefoot kinda girl), riveting me to a seat on the sofa with absolutely nothing for my hands to do except sit there and pay attention along with the all the rest of a totally engrossed me. My first selection ... the first taste of documentary du jour was: Stress: Portrait of a Killer
National Geography serves up some ... very provocative info. I've viewed this material several times now and whole heartedly recommend it as a starting place for anyone wanting to learn a bit more about stress and it's insidiously corrosive impact on both the quality and quanity of our lives. Here's a link to a summary:
Dr. Sapolsky's scholarly research spans several decades and continents. Basically, he has been following a tribe of baboons ... collecting blood samples (to measure glucocoriticoids and probably other hormones) and documenting observational studies. He doesn't come right out and say it, but, I believe it's safe to infer ... Baboons can be real jerks. The Rank/Stress connection came as a huge surprise to me. See, for some reason I just thought the Alphas ( and I use that term loosely ... may explain later) were the guys with all the stress. Sapolsky says something like this; for every Alpha stuck glorying in power, there is an uncertain subordinate "marinating" in stress hormones. Wow. Who knew? Yes ... I have heard almost all my life that poopy rolls downhill ... yes it follows that the air and everything else else is more pleasant at the top ... how did I come to believe that go with the flow was the less stressful way to go?
The stress created by rising to a challenge is "good stress" ... The buzz of an adrenalin rush. (Hold that thought for later ... I'm pretty sure it's the real reason why so many pilots love their motorcycles ... yeah, seriously ... fast bikes may be medicinal! ... Next post.) Bad stress ... The kind that causes the almost constant burning sensation in my shoulder muscles ... The kind that grinds my molars as I sleep ... Is caused by "lack of control and lack of predicability".
Just a tiny personal pause here ... It's getting better for me. That bad dream about sitting in the backseat of a run-away vehicle ... that has stopped. Or morphed. Latest version is me on a bicycle zooming along a spagetti bowl big city interchange ... I was a little tense in the dream ... vulnerable/unprotected, but at least with some degree of a self determining role. Control. The word seems to have some negative connotations for some ... noticed Two doesn't hear the word in the context I am trying to use it ... so -
to exercise restraint or direction over; dominate; command.
to hold in check; curb: to control a horse; to control one's emotions.
to test or verify (a scientific experiment) by a parallel experiment or other standard of comparison.
to eliminate or prevent the flourishing or spread of: to control a forest fire.
Okay, I'm thinking of control as in "self-control or self moderating", not as under the thumb of a control freak.
I'm talking about ... say, in the experience ... collaborating for outcomes ... cooperative control ... wow ... I didn't realize this was such a difficult idea to express. In the airplane ... for example, I may have the controls, but that sure doesn't mean that I expect everyone else to sit there in awed silence. Everyone who wants a headset is invited to participate ... If you see traffic, yeah ... point it out ... If you want to fly for awhile, just say the word ... be mindful that there are times when idle chitchat is less desirable, but ... We are in this together ... . Additionally, some of my most fun times are in the airplane with no flying duties ... it is sooooo much fun to be an educated passenger ... maybe even with a camera. I love to sit back for the ride when some high skill stick is showing off ... just for the sheer joy of it. See ... I'm totally getting side-tracked here ... I can feel my shoulders relax and my smile blossom at just the thought of it. This is my happy place ... . I completely understand that the buck stops ... somewhere. I get the whole leadership thing ... just saying there are more and less effective styles of leadership which carry different results and different stress loads.
Now I havtah reread to pick up the train of thought!
How do we react to and how do we recover from the long reach of stress?
Stress erodes the hippocampus region of our brains ... The zone for memory storage, loss and recall. Ever draw a blank when trying to introduce a person or ... answer a question ...? That's a glitch in the hippocampus. A hiccup.
Dopamine binds to receptors signaling pleasure ... dominants have more dope ... subordinates have less ... less ability to store and less ability to recall stuff. We intuitively realize that we perform better when not totally stressed out. People on guard ... vigilant people are highly stressed. That thing I said about a seat near the emergency exit ... I know I can get the door open ... can you? ... the ass I'm saving may not just be my own!
Chronic unrelenting exposure to high stress is also linked to abdominal fat (its not just unsightly ... it's a killer) and ... depression. It fries your telomers ... those little boots at the ends of our chromosomes ... chronic stress unravels us ... premature aging ... an early death sentence. It's really unacceptable.
Back to the Salposky findings ... His baboons ate some stuff that killed the Alpha males ... Guess they get to eat first ... I don't know, I can't remember ... They showed a shot of a baboon with flies all over it and I just thought ... Bummer ... The guy's invested in these baboons. But it worked out okay. The super aggressive, antisocial, chest-bumping alphas died. The male baboons who were left were pretty good guys ... as citizens of a cooperate social dynamic. Social grooming increased, the females weren't getting dumped on, the stress penalty for the entire group decreased significantly. I think he said something like this; If being a good guy at the top of the hierarchy matters to you, go where you are happy. The "corporate" culture of this tribe became cooperative even as new males were introduced. Conditions that are vital for our health are more control and more justice ... Equating to lower stress. More rewards (dopamine)for the effort creates a more productive environment ... appreciation empowers your team. A true alpha male in my book is someone who can successfully lead a team effort ... giving direction and support rather then receiving constant personal gratification. I did look at several definitions on the net of alpha traits ... worth a look. Okay ... To be fair, those badboy baboons probably woulda been good warriors ... idk ... they may have used the weaker members as shields ... just looking for the positives here.
Tomorrow I'll try to get my notes on stress management posted ... there were a couple of lightbulb moments there. The simple realization that you are in control of your life is the foundation for stress management. In charge of your thoughts ... emotions ... schedule ... environment ... strategies for dealing with problems.