Stress, Portrait of a Killer

The documentary Stress, Portrait of a Killer below is highly recommended, because it shows the enormous negative consequences of near-continuous stress on daily lives and also gives clear guidelines how to improve the situation.

My most important notes:

Stress evolved as natural and positive reaction of the body to crisis situations. It is the way the body handles challenges, whether they be life threatening, trivial or fun. Fun stress is what we call stimulation, like the good tension you feel before and during a sports match. We want to keep this kind of stress in our lives. The continuous bad stress in our current society (worrying about the mortgage, getting annoyed about traffic jams, high workload, etc.) has many negative consequences on our lives:

  • We feel worse and are less able to enjoy pleasures, like good food.
  • We are less able to learn, think and remember: “Stress makes you stupid.”
  • Stress has many negative physiological consequences: increased heart rate and blood pressure, tense muscles, more hardening of the arteries (arterosclerosis), worse development of the brain, faster decrease in the length of telemirs at the ends of chromosomes, more weight gain, especially around the waist (which is much worse than weight gain on other parts of the body).

The consequences are more discomfort, less joy, worse performance, and a less healthy and shorter life.

Stress is strongly related to social hierarchy: the lower on the hierarchy you are, the more stress you experience. Much stress is self-inflicted (multi-tasking) and society-inflicted (social hierarchy). Lack of control and predictability lead to lots of stress. Think for instance about people in a low rank at work or who live in a neighborhood with lots of criminality and violence.

What can we do to reduce stress and lead a more comfortable, longer and healthier life?:

  • Try to make sure you experience sufficient control and predictability:
    • If possible, choose a job/manager where you are appreciated, where behavior is honest en just, where you have influence on your fate.
    • If you are a manager, do the following: be positive, show appreciation, let people have their say (don’t dominate meetings, but ask questions and listen), avoid bureaucracy and micromanagement and instead delegate and decentralize, reward people for good results which are under their influence.
    • Try to live in a healthy environment, with little criminality and violence.
  • If you experience little control in your work, try to compensate this in other areas of your life, e.g. by being captain of your sports team. Also, consciously give a lower weighting to areas of your life where you experience less control (e.g. work) and a higher weighting to areas where you experience more control (e.g. your sports team).
  • Be compassionate with and care for others (“The secret to living is giving” – Tony Robbins).
  • Laugh a lot and have humor in your life.
  • Place increased value on stress-reducing activities like relaxation, sports, meditation, and fun and healing group activities like support groups.

Scientific research points the way to a stress-free utopia which has the conditions for people to thrive. A group of baboons has shown that it is possible to radically reduce the amount of stress that all members experience on a daily basis in just one generation. If baboons can do it, then sure we humans can. But do we have the courage to learn from baboons?