Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers

“What would be tops on a zebra’s list of things that cause stress? Well, a zebra certainly worries about physical stressors. A lion has just attacked you, you’ve succeeded in escaping, but the lion is still after you with lunch on its mind. Evolution has assured that zebras, like most animals including humans, respond very effectively to these types of emergencies.

Now draw up the list of things you find stressful. There probably isn’t much overlap with the zebra’s list. For the most part, the kinds of things we worry about are not physical, but mental-work deadlines, the performance of the stock you put in the portfolio last week, personal relationships. Humans deal largely with stressors that are psychological and social.

In his delightful book Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers, renowned brain researcher and stress expert Robert Sapolsky highlights a crucial point: the body’s physiological responses are well adapted for dealing with short-term physical threats. Those are the kinds of threats that we humans have faced for most of our existence. The problem is the psychological stress that we experience today triggers the same physiological responses. The source of our stress is different, but the reaction is the same. Psychological stress, if chronic, can lead to severe health and performance problems because it throws our bodies out of balance.’

What kinds of things do we do in response to stress? Sapolsky notes that our reactions are “generally short-sighted, inefficient, and penny-wise and dollar-foolish.” The body mobilizes to deal with the immediate threat. This stress response is effective in a crisis but can be very costly if you experience every day as an emergency.”

Source:  Michael J. Mauboussin. More More Than You Know: Finding Financial Wisdom in Unconventional Places (Updated and Expanded) (pp. 71-72). Kindle Edition.

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