The idea of treatment for chronic stress is appealing to folks like me who have a checkered past dealing with it. While it won't arrive in time from me, I am encouraged by the remarkable work being down, and the new revelations about chronic stress. Jonah
In the decades since, Sapolsky’s speculation has become scientific fact. Chronic stress, it turns out, is an extremely dangerous condition. And not just for baboons: People are as vulnerable to its effects as those low-ranking male apes. While stress doesn’t cause any single disease — in fact, the causal link between stress and ulcers has been largely disproved — it makes most diseases significantly worse. The list of ailments connected to stress is staggeringly diverse and includes everything from the common cold and lower-back pain to Alzheimer’s disease, major depressive disorder, and heart attack. Stress hollows out our bones and atrophies our muscles. It triggers adult-onset diabetes and is a leading cause of male impotence. In fact, numerous studies of human longevity in developed countries have found that psychosocial factors such as stress are the single most important variable in determining the length of a life. It’s not that genes and risk factors like smoking don’t matter. It’s that our levels of stress matter more.Note the surprising advice on alcohol and exercise. (Well, surprising to me, anyway)
Furthermore, the effects of chronic stress directly counteract improvements in medical care and public health. Antibiotics, for instance, are far less effective when our immune system is suppressed by stress; that fancy heart surgery will work only if the patient can learn to shed stress. As Sapolsky notes, “You can give a guy a drug-coated stent, but if you don’t fix the stress problem, it won’t really matter. For so many conditions, stress is the major long-term risk factor. Everything else is a short-term fix.”
The power of Sapolsky’s stress vaccine is that it can rescue us from ourselves, at least in theory. Like those baboons in the bush, we live in a stratified society that comes with real costs. There is nothing hypothetical about these costs: They make us depressed and give us back pain. They shrink parts of the brain, clog the arteries, and weaken the immune system. They shorten our already short lives.
The science of stress can illuminate the damage. It can document the chemistry that unravels us from the inside. One day, it might even give us options for preventing the damage, silencing the stress response at its source. But these are mere band-aids, fancy fixes for what remains an inherently societal problem. We tell our kids that life isn’t fair, but we fail to mention that the unfairness can be crippling, that many of us will die because of where we were born. This is the cruel trick of stress: If it were only a feeling, if there were only the despair of having no control or the anxiety of doing without, then stress would be bad enough. But the feeling is just the trigger. We are the loaded gun. [More - highly recommended]