- Paperback: 560 pages
- Publisher: Holt Paperbacks; 3 edition (15 September 2004)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0805073698
- ISBN-13: 978-0805073690
- Product Dimensions: 15.6 x 2.6 x 23.2 cm
- Average Customer Review: 7 customer reviews
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #38,536 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers: The Acclaimed Guide to Stress, Stress-Related Diseases, and Coping - Now Revised and Updated Paperback – 15 Sep 2004
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"Robert M. Sapolsky is one of the best science writers of our time."―Oliver Sacks
For the first edition of Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers:
Sapolsky succeeds in interpreting technical material in a way that leaves readers with an understanding of how the same physiological responses, so well suited for dealing with short-term physical emergencies, can turn into potential disasters when chronically provoked for psychological or other reasons....The author has a way with words and images....you'll find plenty to intrigue you. ―The Washington Post
Robert Sapolsky wittily dissects the anatomy of human stress-response. ―The Wall Street Journal
About the Author
Robert M. Sapolsky is a professor of biology and neurology at Stanford University and a research associate with the Institute of Primate Research, National Museum of Kenya. He is the author of A Primate's Memoir and The Trouble with Testosterone, which was a Los Angeles Times Book Award finalist. A regular contributor to Discover and The Sciences, and a recipient of a MacArthur Foundation "genius" grant, he lives in San Francisco.See all Product description
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Robert Sapolsky explains the effect of our brains sensing or predicting the events around us to be not in our favour and giving rise to hormonal archestra which is our stress mechanism. We, as human beings have evolved from being mere vertebrates, who are worried only about food or next prey to being someone’s prey, to being concerned with the thoughts of myriad catastrophic events in our surroundings like the presence of a bad boss, a dominating mother in law, office presentations and every little change around us that we may consider to be worthy of our stress response. We are capable of creating stress by just our thoughts, sitting in one place.This according to him is an exaggerated and chronic stress response in humans that is harmful because it was supposed to be used in non human primates only for short term or acute use when either they were chased as a prey or were chasing their prey.
When our brain senses an emergency, it directs the pituitary to secrete a hormone called as ACTH, which in turn secretes, CRH and that makes the adrenal glands secrete glucocorticoids, which are the villains of the entire story of stress. The stress also elicits the sympathetic system and that in turn arouses the body for maintaining its allostasis.
Robert systematically explains with basic physiology of how the two opposing systems, Sympathetic( raises heart rate, blood pressure, dilates pupils, etc) and Parasympathetic( reduces heart rate, blood pressure, constricts pupils etc), actually balance each other and maintain the homeostasis or rather allostasis (is the word that he uses) of our body. Sympathetic system arouses the body and parasympathetic system relaxes it. Homeostasis is about maintaining our blood pressure, our breathing rate and oxygen saturation in the blood etc etc in equilibrium. And allostasis as he explains is a predictive cousin of homeostasis which predicts the occurrence of disturbance of homeostasis and acts to prevent it. Allostasis is the mechanism in action during stress.
Sapolsky, with research studies by his side, demonstrates how an exaggerated and chronic stress response leads to diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular problems, problems with growth and fertility and of course, immunity, digestion and assimilation of our gut. ( also peptic ulcers).He lucidly puts forth the mechanisms of our sleep patterns, memory, aging and also our succumbing to addiction in the face of our stress response.
In the end he provides without blowing up or any drama, the methods and cognitive approaches that can help keep in control our stress response and which in turn helps us be healthier.
He recommends some usual coping strategies like daily meditation and exercise, though he asks you to use personal wisdom in selecting the meditation teacher since different schools of meditation teach different methods of the same and can become heavy on your pockets and same about exercise. One of the interesting concepts that he presents is that the parasympathetic system takes over during expiration. And as parasympathetic system relaxes the body, most of the meditation practices work around expiration. He underlines the importance of social support and relationships in face stress of any kind. He also warns against hostility towards your surroundings and people. He subtly differentiates between people of type A personality and the same people with an element of hostility who are more at risk of stress and stress related pathology.
In the end he makes you get acquainted with cognitive flexibility. According to Sapolsky, one response does not suit all situations. Predictability helps control stress and so does a sense of control on the outcome of situations, but not always. Each situation demands a different response. Some demand an emotional response and some hard core problem solving. He aptly quotes an unknown poet to explain cognitive flexibility as
In the face of strong winds,
let me be a blade of grass.
In the face of strong walls,
let me be a gale of wind.
In the end he makes it very clear that there are no magical cures and also that some stress is unavoidable like the one that people face due to poverty or due to special circumstances like being a mother of a special child or in face of death and serious disease.
I feel that this book makes you stand at the intersection, where body meets the mind, scientifically.
If you really want to know about the science behind how our thoughts can affect our bodies and in turn may cause lifestyle diseases for which we eventually spend huge amounts of moolah, this is your comprehensive guide.
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