It is quite interesting how people tend to exhaust themselves with fear of events or situations that are generally extremely rare do not affect the mass-population. For instance: shark attacks, plane crashes, snakes, and other phobias tend to strike fear in almost every individual. However, people fail to realize that we have a substantially better risk of being injured in a car crash on our way to the beach or an airport to catch a plane. What we encounter in our daily lives eventually no longer scares us. Stress seems to be another one of these potentially harmful bodily occurrences that people have grown to underestimate the effects of. Sure, we know that being stressed is unhealthy, but do people realize how detrimental it can really be? I would assume the answer to this question would be, “no”. Especially with finals coming up, I wanted to look at how stress effects the body. It is becoming increasingly apparent how much of a silent killer stress actually is.
Our DNA has a specific coating, called telomeres, and chronic stress is shown to degenerate telomeres, which can have several adverse health effects.
In documentary film, Stress: Portrait of a Killer, neuroscientist Dr. Robert Sapolsky takes us on a journey and provides a rather unorthodox, but insightful answer to this very question. Dr. Sapolsky began traveling to Africa to study an indigenous group of baboons while he was a doctoral candidate. His research went so well, he kept returning to Africa every year to study the group for over thirty years. The most interesting aspect of his research is that baboons react to stress in a similar manner to humans, which allowed Dr. Sapolsky discovered so many new insights to human stress by studying baboons. He found that fat stored around the belly can be much more harmful to one’s health than fat on other places in the body. This is due to the fact that belly-fat releases different hormones into the bloodstream causing life-threatening consequences. This is proof that stress not exclusive to affecting us emotionally or psychologically, but physically as well.
Another important understanding of human psychology that Dr. Sapolsky learned from baboons is that our sense social standing can either have a great effect on our sense of well-being, or damage it vastly. With baboons, the alpha males were fed the best and had their choice of what females to mate with. They sleep, relax, and basically obtain anything they please because they have control over others. These alpha male baboons had much less health issues than their inferior counterparts. Interestingly, these same patterns resonate the same with humans, it has been documented that individuals who have high-ranking positions in the work place have a greater sense of well-being and more autonomy with their lives than individuals who are working in subordinate positions.
It is clear that there is so much to be learned about ourselves based off of the way other living organisms behave and interact. This documentary, Stress: The Portrait of a Killer, only reinforces and sheds new light on this idea. Dr. Saplosky’s work I feel should reach the general public because most people downplay the stressors in their life without realizing what a disservice they are doing to their bodies’ and minds’. This film has certainly given me the curiosity to explore the stressors that plague myself and how to fix them, and I am confident it has done the same for others as well.