Stress is crucial for survival. Zebra sees a lion, stress makes her run. But we modern humans get stressed mostly for psychological reasons. Which are much more constant and lingering than a run in with a lion. Work, lifestyle, family, even Christmas.
What makes stress dangerous is the glucocortocoid hormones that our body releases. Elevated levels of such hormones leads to diabetes, hypertension, decreased testosterone, memory loss, suppressed immune system.
Robert Sapolsky, professor of neurology at Stanford University, has been studying stress in wild baboons for more than three decades. And he found there are two powerful predictors of who will be most affected by stress. Personality plays a huge role. Can you tell the difference between a big threat and minor issue? If it is big can you figure out a way to get some control over it? If there’s a bad outcome do you have a coping mechanism? If you can answer yes to these it’s a good bet you’ve got relatively low stress.
Beyond personality traits, the single best predictor of an ability to deal well with stress is how socially connected you are. Baboons who had strong relationships also had low glucocorticoid levels and outlived the more isolated baboons by about three years.
So this Christmas holiday, rejoice in your interconnections, your friends and family. It’s a good thing for your heart and health.