Why a mammoth?

Link between stress and a mammoth

You will likely agree that we are not faced with many absolute stressors in 2011. Yet, the World Health Organization has predicted that by 2020 stress-related disorders like heart disease and depression will be in the top two leading causes of disability in adults. Why?

These days, our body’s stress response system is activated just as much if not more than when we hunted mammoths. But there is a difference in what is activating it. Today we face more relative stressors. These are stressors that only some exposed to them would interpret as being stressful. As such, they are subjective stressors that cause different reactions in different people, like a short deadline at work, traffic, paying taxes, or writing an exam.

Why is it that time pressure makes some people N.U.T.S with stress while others do their best work? To make a cake we need some basic ingredients. But, there are endless possibilities in how we combine them, what brands we use, and what we add for flavor. The same applies for stress. There is a basic Recipe for Stress that is the same for everyone.

For a situation to be stressful and cause the release of stress hormones we must interpret it as containing one or more of the following; Novelty, Unpredictability, a Threat to the sense of self or ego, and decrease our Sense of control or N.U.T.S. What is novel to you is different from what is novel to John. This is why stress is highly personal.

Our lives today are filled with situations that we interpret as stressful or relative stressors. Our stress response system does not know the difference between an absolute and a relative stressor. In other words, it can’t tell whether we are facing a large wooly mammoth or a traffic jam; it releases the same stress hormones!

How is it that our highly sophisticated brain cannot tell time and not know that we are in 2011? Our brain can probably tell time but we are draining the batteries in the clock far too quickly. This is because our stress response system was not designed to be activated as often as it is these days. After all, we did not hunt mammoths every day. A good sized mammoth would provide food for our tribe for quite some time.

It is entirely appropriate for you brain to release stress hormones in the face of a charging mammoth; this is an absolute stressor and we need the energy. Traffic on the other hand is not life threatening, does not require energy expenditure, nor will it prevent you and your family from eating over the next month. It is a relative stressor.

For a system that was designed to only be activated on occasion, the constant demands we place on it due to our interpretations of situations as stressful are causing undue wear and tear which can lead to considerable health problems.

So, a mammoth as our logo reminds us of the difference between absolute stressors and relative stressors and that managing stress is within reach. Life has evolved to what it is today and as such we will never be able to eliminate all sources of stress, both absolute and relative. But we can learn to influence our interpretations in a way that will ultimately decrease the number of times our stress response system gets activated, decrease the amount of stress hormones we release and help us cope with stress.