Just watched this AMAZING documentary from National Geographic (2008) on what we have learned in the past 20 years about stress and its impact on our lives.
What I learned:
Stress hormones evolved to help us survive by reacting quickly to life-threatening situations: “When you’re running for your life, basics are all that matter.” The problem today is that we human beings cannot seem to find our off switch and so our brains are constantly marinating in these stress hormones. By never turning off these hormones, eventually the stress response is more damaging to our brains and bodies than the stressor itself.
The lower you are in the hierarchy of any group or organization, the higher your stress levels and the more likely you are to suffer stress related illnesses. This was studied for years in the British Civil Service (called the “Whitehall Study”) where all members have equal access to health services, stable jobs and no industrial exposures to toxic substances. Your position in the hierarchy also influences how much weight you put on and how it is distributed on your body. Lower level employees tend to put more weight on around the middle, a kind of fat which produces different hormones which are more detrimental to your health.
The more subordinate you are, the fewer dopamine receptors you have in your brain to produce a feeling of well-being and pleasure. In rats it was proven that the higher the stress levels in your life, the more plaque build-up in your arteries.
High stress levels can shut down your natural immune response. Chronic stress kills brain cells, especially in the hypocampus, the center of learning and memory formation in the brain.
Mothers who were under extreme stress with a baby in vitro produce children who exhibit physical and emotional vulnerabilities decades later like depression and other psychological problems. This was learned by interviewing people in their 60s who were in vitro during the Dutch Hunger Winter of 1944.
New research on telomeres shows that living under chronic stress conditions does shorten your life, but stress management techniques like connecting with caring, compassionate others can reduce stress and help you live longer.
The problem with our society is that we tend to look up to those who can do five things at once, rather than admiring those who have learned how to live a more balanced and serene life.