Anxiety Redux: Zebras & Roller Coasters

American biologist and author Robert Sapolsky.

American biologist and author Robert Sapolsky. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Since writing my post on The Limits of Anxiety last week, I had an opportunity to watch the 2008 National Geographic documentary Stress: Portrait of a Killer (on my computer, thanks to Open Culture). The program features Stanford biologist Robert Sapolsky, author of Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers.

Sure, just about everyone knows that being in a continually heightened state of anxiety can lead to physical stress symptoms, some of which can be quite severe. But this is another case when knowing something—as in having good information that we believe to be accurate—and being able to do something about it is much easier said than done.

Knowing (Thinking center) is only the first step. The next step is accepting on an emotional level that what we know matters to us personally (Feeling center). The third step is taking action (Doing center).

Although the three Thinking types may be more prone to experiencing anxiety because of the nature of their personalities or temperament, anyone can be afflicted with chronic or prolonged anxiety. Given the problems we face on a personal, local, and even global level, maybe the surprise is that everyone isn’t totally paralyzed by anxiety. So kudos if you’re not!

However, anxiety and stress are insidious, and I think we all live with unrelieved stress to one degree or another. Chalk some of that up to the fact that—unlike zebras—we can imagine things that don’t yet exist. We can—and do—anticipate the future, envisioning many different potential scenarios and outcomes. Those are great abilities to have in terms of being creative or in brainstorming or in planning ahead. But they also make us vulnerable to conjuring up negative possibilities and then convincing ourselves those things are likely to happen.

Anxiety can become a way of life that ultimately makes it more difficult for us to think clearly or react appropriately to the circumstances or events in our lives. So we need to be able to recognize when we get on the anxiety roller coaster and find a way to interrupt the ride. Actually a ride on a real roller coaster might be the perfect interruption.

In the meantime, please watch the video.

You might also like How to Avoid Stress.

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3 responses to “Anxiety Redux: Zebras & Roller Coasters

  1. Pingback: What if You Could Immunize Yourself Against Stress? | Nine Paths

  2. I’m a huge fan of Robert. Among other things he has won the Stanford Genius Award. His book Why Zebras don’t get ulcers is a must have for biologists. A watered down version by an other author is called, “The End of Stress As We Know It.”

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