Is the 'fluttering feeling' when under stress neurological or physical?

Is the 'fluttering feeling' when under stress neurological or physical?

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I'm sure that everyone is familiar with the sensation commonly known as "butterflies in the stomach". It is commonly experienced during periods of anxiety or stress (e.g. before high stakes job interviews or roller coaster rides) and apparently (after my web research) often felt in new romances without an obvious cause of tension.

However, whilst my googling did turn up an inordinate amount of rubbish regarding love-sicknesnes, I have been unable to find even a suggestion as to a mechanism as to the physiology behind this feeling. Is it a sensation of physical change in the stomach (some sites vaguely mentioned the restriction of blood flow to critical organs but it was entirely unsupported) or is it neurological in nature?

If you want to find out about the the relationship of this response to romance in particular, there's a pretty comprehensive research paper called Love is more than just a kiss: a neurobiological perspective on love and affection[1] which reviews a lot of the work done in this area. This is pretty good as it discusses all the different stages including breakup.

Essentially, there seems to be a lot factors at play which elicits various responses through different stages of love.

In terms of anxiety and stress, initially, there's a large increase in levels of cortisol[2] and a marked drop in serotonin. Depletion of serotonin is found in many psychiatric conditions such as depression, anxiety and panic disorder. There's even been evidence that these levels at early stages of love are similar to those suffering with OCD. Obviously, the 'symptoms' of early love are quite similar to these conditions so it's hypothesised that this, at least in part contributes to those feelings.[1]. It was found that these levels are back to normal in 12-24 months.

The elevated levels of cortisol contribute to the feelings of stress but this hormone has also been shown to promote attachment.[2].

There are also changes in activity of the amygdala. Responsible for regulating a lot of emotions such as fear and sexual drive, the amygdala can activate autonomic nervous system responses through the mechanisms which Kevin described.

There are a bunch of other things at play here including dopamine, oxytocin, vasopressin, nerve growth factor (NGF), testosterone, increased activity in the hypothalamic-pituitary-axis (HPA) and variations in activity in other areas of the brain.

Again, that first reference gives a pretty comprehensive overview of the mechanisms involved.

To answer the actual question about the fluttering feeling, as Kevin mentioned, it's hypothesised that this is caused by reduced peristalsis in the intestines as a result of sympathetic stimulation. I don't have an academic reference for this but there are plenty of non-academic sources that talk about it (a quick Google of butterflies in stomach and physiology will probably show them).

A lot of the mechanisms noted above can contribute to, sensitise for or cause sympathetic activation. For example, panic attacks and anxiety, mentioned earlier with the serotonin relationship, can cause the same feeling.

  1. Boer, et al. Love is more than just a kiss: a neurobiological perspective on love and affection. Neuroscience. 2012. 201:114-124.

  2. Marazziti, et al. Hormonal changes when falling in love. Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2004. 29(7):931-936.

  3. Guyton and Hall. Medical Physiology. 11th ed. Elsevier Saunders.

Nervousness or excitement should cause an increase in activity in the sympathetic nervous system (the so-called "fight or flight" side of the autonomic system). Increased sympathetic activity will be associated with decreased parasympathetic activity (primarily digestion, but also crying and other "emittive" glandular activity).

I don't have a citation, but I suspect that the "butterflies" feeling is associated with the cessation of peristaltic activity in the gut, which puts the digestive and nervous systems in conflict. If you have just eaten, then there is a difference between what your gut wants to do (digest) and what your brain wants it to do (not digest) -- thus the frequently accompanying nausea.

Anxiety and Sexual Function & Genital Issues

While anxiety can cause a number of different chances in your body, the reality is that none can cause as much anxiety as problems with your genitals. No matter if you are a man or woman, young or old, married or single, no one likes the idea that something is affecting them in their most private of areas.

Even though it may seem strange, there are symptoms of anxiety related to the genital areas, and they can cause a significant amount of stress. The following are some of the genital symptoms of anxiety.

What is stress?

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, stress can be defined as “the brain’s response to any demand.” Stress can be triggered by a number of events, positive and negative, real and perceived.

Changes that trigger stress can be mild, such as riding a rollercoaster, competing for a promotion at work, or watching a scary movie. Major changes can include an unexpected loss, a wedding or divorce, or exposure to physical harm.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) indicates that there are three main types of stress, each carrying varying risks to your physical or mental health.

  1. Routine stress comes with the pressures of day-to-day life, such as work and family obligations
  2. Stress brought about by an unexpected change outside of your normal routines, such as divorce, financial issues, or a sudden change in employment status
  3. Traumatic stress, which occurs in a large, life-altering event, like a natural disaster, terrorist attack, or assault, where one would question whether or not they are in danger

Are Internal Tremors Harmful?

The good news is that internal tremors or muscle spasms are usually not harmful. They may signal that there is something else wrong, such as a vitamin deficiency that is causing this.

However, they are not something that is going to cause long-term harm to your body. But, these tremors can have other effects on your life. For example:

  • Tremors can make it hard to sleep and when you have fibromyalgia, sleep is often interrupted for other reasons as well.
  • When a tremor hits in the legs while walking, it could affect your balance and ability to keep walking.
  • Depending upon the location of the tremor, you may feel as though you are having a heart issue as it is common for fibromyalgia patients to claim a tremor in their chest area.

That is why when you first have these tremors it can be scary. Especially if you have this tremor in your chest muscles or back muscle, as you may feel as though you are having a heart attack.

Therefore, you need to talk to your doctor when these do occur to rule out any other problem.

Is all stress created equal?

While the effect of stress on the brain is well documented, it's less clear exactly what type of stress will prove damaging and raise the risk of memory problems later in life. Do brain problems occur when you are under a small amount of stress or only when you experience long-term stress?

"That's a tough question, because stress is a broad term that is used to describe a lot of different things," says Dr. Ressler. The stress you might experience before you take a test is likely very different from the stress of being involved in a car accident or from a prolonged illness. "Certainly, more stress is likely worse, and long-term stress is generally worse than short-term stress," says Dr. Ressler.

But there are additional factors that make stress more harmful, he says. In particular:

The stress is unpredictable. Animal research shows that animals that could anticipate a stressor — for example, they received a shock after a light turned on — were less stressed than animals that received the same number of shocks randomly. The same is true in humans, says Dr. Ressler. If a person can anticipate stress, it is less damaging than stress that appears to be more random.

There is no time limit on the stress. If you are stressed about a presentation at work or an upcoming exam, the stress you are experiencing has an end point when you know you will get relief. If the stress has no end point — for example, you are chronically stressed about finances — it may be more challenging to cope with.

You lack support. If you feel supported during your stress, you are likely to weather it more successfully than if you don't.

What Happens in the Brain Following Early Life Stress

The human brain is built in a way that mirrors its evolutionary and developmental history. Biology tends not to replace things that are working, it builds on top of them. Instead of fixing what isn’t broken just use what works and make it better, is biology’s Moto.

In the case of the brain, while the cortex gets all the attention for being responsible for higher cognitive processes, it is the youngest part of the brain in terms of the evolutionary timeline. The comparatively older parts of the brain that sit below the cortex deeper down support the fundamental functions necessary to support life. To ensure the survival of the organism and species, these more primitive functions had to precede cognition and the ability to contemplate the meaning of life. Things like appetite, sex drive, thirst, and breathing. Emotions, the reward circuits that drive pleasure from external stimuli, and how we respond to stress are also complex neural functions in these deep brain structures.

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One of these important deep-brain structures is an area called the nucleus accumbens, a group of neurons that integrates information from different brain regions to fine-tune how we respond to stress. It is what drives us towards positive stimuli and away from negative or damaging ones. So it is critical in regulating how susceptible one might be to depression and related challenges in the face of stressful conditions.

Experiencing stress during early life does not necessarily mean that chronic adulthood stress and its effects on mental and physical health are inevitable, but it does prime the brain to respond in a way that makes chronic anxiety or mood disorders more likely if the individual is exposed to a major stressor later on in their lives. It is what the researchers describe as an increased sensitivity to a ‘second hit’ of stress.

Catherine J. Peña, Assistant Professor in the Princeton Neuroscience Institute at Princeton University and one of the two senior authors of the paper, explained how early life stress in the form of “deprivation and neglect can have distinct effects from abuse. For a long time they were lumped together. But recent studies over the last ten years have started to tease them apart. Timing is key. The type and timing of stress changes what symptoms occur later.”

A Domino Effect of Molecular Changes

Intense stress in early life can lead to transcriptional changes that affect the neurons in the nucleus accumbens. Transcription is the first step in gene expression and the production of proteins. An RNA copy is made of a gene’s DNA that encodes the target protein to be synthesized. Disruptions to transcription can result in serious affects downstream on the physiology and functions of the brain and, indeed, the entire body.

An increased susceptibility to adulthood chronic stress as a result of exposure to early life stress is mediated by transcriptional changes occurring in the nucleus accumbens. This effect is what scientists refer to epigenetics - the study of how heritable traits and the environment affect what genes get turned on and off. Unlike mutations though, epigenetic effects are not mediated by any changes to the underlying sequence of DNA, just the selection of genes that get activated.

In response to stress, gene and molecular changes ultimately affect brain function.

Uncovering the molecular details responsible for these changes though required a bit of scientific detective work. Eric J. Nestler, Professor and Dean for Academic and Scientific Affairs at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and the paper’s other senior author, pointed out that “epigenetic modifications over fifteen years ago were suspected as a possible mechanism by which behavioral experiences produce long term changes”. But what gene and molecular modifications were in fact the link has not been clear.

The researchers eventually zeroed in on two key enzymes that affect the structure and, as a consequence, function of chromatin. Chromatin is the material that chromosomes are made from - a combination of DNA and proteins that help keep the DNA tightly coiled inside a cell. The set of chromosomes in the cells of our bodies, including neurons, are the carriers of our genetic information.

They knew that modifications to chromatin could cause changes in gene expression long after the perturbation that causes the modification in the first place. In the case of early life stress, the culprits turned out to be transcriptional alterations to two enzymes that regulate a particular biochemical reaction responsible for how chromatin is made.

During normal development, this biochemical reaction (a dimethylation reaction of a DNA packaging protein called Histone H3) is tightly regulated by these two enzymes, but is dysregulated when alterations to the enzymes occur. What is responsible for the transcriptional changes to these enzymes? Physiological effects induced by intense stress during critical developmental periods in early life.

From Molecules to Neurons to Potential Treatments

Adding further weight to their argument is the fact that the researchers were able to show that these molecular changes predominantly occurred in a subpopulation of neurons that were previously shown to be associated with an increased susceptibility to depression. Another major subpopulation of neurons, known to induce resilience to chronic stress, were less affected.

Encouragingly though, they were able to at least partially reverse the increased susceptibility to chronic stress by treating the mice in their study with a small molecule that inhibits the function of one of the two modified enzymes. And while these studies were carried out in a mouse model of stress, meaning that much more work needs to be done before any of these results can be clinically translated into a drug that can treat chronic stress in humans, it is an important pre-clinical proof-of-concept step.

As Dr. Nestler explained, the test drug was given to the mice as adults while they were experiencing stress. “The next step is to see if it is equally effective after stress.”

What’s the difference between stress and anxiety?

Knowing the difference can ensure you get the help you need.

There’s a fine line between stress and anxiety. Both are emotional responses, but stress is typically caused by an external trigger. The trigger can be short-term, such as a work deadline or a fight with a loved one or long-term, such as being unable to work, discrimination, or chronic illness. People under stress experience mental and physical symptoms, such as irritability, anger, fatigue, muscle pain, digestive troubles, and difficulty sleeping.

Anxiety, on the other hand, is defined by persistent, excessive worries that don’t go away even in the absence of a stressor. Anxiety leads to a nearly identical set of symptoms as stress: insomnia, difficulty concentrating, fatigue, muscle tension, and irritability.

Both mild stress and mild anxiety respond well to similar coping mechanisms. Physical activity, a nutritious and varied diet, and good sleep hygiene are a good starting point, but there are other coping mechanisms available.

If your stress or anxiety does not respond to these management techniques, or if you feel that either stress or anxiety are affecting your day-to-day functioning or mood, consider talking to a mental health professional who can help you understand what you are experiencing and provide you additional coping tools. For example, a psychologist can help determine whether you may have an anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorders differ from short-term feelings of anxiety in their severity and in how long they last: The anxiety typically persists for months and negatively affects mood and functioning. Some anxiety disorders, such as agoraphobia (the fear of public or open spaces), may cause the person to avoid enjoyable activities or make it difficult to keep a job.

Anxiety disorders are common. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 19% of Americans over the age of 18 had an anxiety disorder in the past year, and 31% of Americans will experience an anxiety disorder during their lifetimes.

One of the most common anxiety disorders is generalized anxiety disorder. To identify if someone has generalized anxiety disorder, a clinician will look for symptoms such as excessive, hard-to-control worry occurring most days over six months. The worry may jump from topic to topic. Generalized anxiety disorder is also accompanied by the physical symptoms of anxiety.

Another type of anxiety disorder is panic disorder, which is marked by sudden attacks of anxiety that may leave a person sweating, dizzy, and gasping for air. Anxiety may also manifest in the form of specific phobias (such as fear of flying) or as social anxiety, which is marked by a pervasive fear of social situations.

Anxiety disorders can be treated with psychotherapy, medication, or a combination of the two. One of the most widely used therapeutic approaches is cognitive behavioral therapy, which focuses on changing maladaptive thought patterns related to the anxiety. Another potential treatment is exposure therapy, which involves confronting anxiety triggers in a safe, controlled way in order to break the cycle of fear around the trigger.

For advice on how to find a mental health professional, visit APA’s Help Center.

Thanks to psychologists Mary Alvord, PhD, and Raquel Halfond, PhD, who assisted with this article.

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Stress affects your digestive tract. “The gastrointestinal tract is filled with nerve endings and immune cells, all of which are affected by stress hormones,” says Dr. Dossett. As a result, stress can cause acid reflux as well as exacerbate symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome and inflammatory bowel disease. Not to mention create butterflies in your stomach.

Stress messes with your immune system. A number of studies shows that stress lowers immunity, which may be why you’re likely to come down with a cold after a crunch time at school or work — right on the first day of your vacation. (5) “Patients with autoimmune disorders often say they get flare-ups during or after stressful events, or tell me that their condition began after a particularly stressful event,” says Dossett.

Stress can muddle your brain. “Brain scans of people with post-traumatic stress disorder show more activity in the amygdala, a brain region associated with fear and emotion,” says Haythe. But even everyday kinds of stress can affect how the brain processes information.

“We see actual structural, functional, and connectivity-related brain changes in people who are under chronic stress,” adds Gupta. All of these can affect cognition and attention, which is why you may find it hard to focus or learn new things when you are stressed. (6)

Stress can make you feel crummy all over. Stress makes us more sensitive to pain, and it can also cause pain due to muscular tension. (7) “People under stress also tend to perceive pain differently,” says Gupta.

They’re also less apt to sleep well, which doesn’t help matters. “Sleep is so important in terms of helping to prevent every disease,” adds Haythe. “It helps reboot the immune system and prevents depression, irritability, and exhaustion.”

When do symptoms occur?

Dystonia can occur at any age, but genetic and idiopathic dystonia are often divided as either early, or childhood onset, versus adult onset.

  • Early onset dystonia often begins with symptoms in the limbs and may progress to involve other regions. Some symptoms tend to occur after periods of exertion and/or fluctuate over the course of the day.
  • Adult onset dystonia usually is located in one or adjacent parts of the body, most often involving the neck and/or facial muscles. Acquired dystonia can affect other regions of the body.

Dystonia often progresses through various stages. Initially, dystonic movements may be intermittent and appear only during voluntary movements or stress. Later, individuals may show dystonic postures and movements while walking and ultimately even while they are relaxed. Dystonia can be associated with fixed postures and shortening of tendons.

Mind & Body Articles & More

This month, we feature videos of a Greater Good presentation by Robert M. Sapolsky, one the country’s foremost experts on stress. In this excerpt from his talk, the best-selling author and Stanford University professor explains the difference between bad stress and good stress, and how we can manage the effects of chronic stress on our lives.

In 1900, what do you think were the leading causes of death in this country?

If you were 20 to 40 years old and a woman, the single riskiest thing you could do was try to give birth. TB, Pneumonia, influenza killed a lot of other people. But few people under the age of 100 die of the flu anymore. Relatively few women die in childbirth. Instead, we die of these utterly bizarre diseases that have never existed before on the planet in any sort of numbers—diseases like heart disease, cancer, adult-onset diabetes, and Alzheimer’s.

Now, some of this has to do with nuts and bolts biology. But some of it has to do with issues that nobody ever had to think about before in medicine—totally bizarre questions like, “What’s your psychological makeup?” or “What’s your social status?” or “How do people with your social status get treated in your society?”

And this one: “Why is it that when we’re feeling unloved, we eat more starch?” Figure that out, and you’ve cured half the cases of diabetes in this country

Indeed, when you look at the diseases that do us in, they are predominantly diseases that can be caused, or made worse, by stress. As a result, most of us in this room will have the profound Westernized luxury of dropping dead someday of a stress-related disease. That’s why it’s so urgent that we understand stress—and how to better manage it.

How stress kills

Do you remember “homeostasis,” a term I guarantee you heard in ninth grade biology? Homeostasis is having an ideal body temperature, an ideal level of glucose in the bloodstream, an ideal everything. That’s being in homeostatic balance.

A stressor is anything in the outside world that knocks you out of homeostatic balance. If you’re some zebra and a lion has ripped your stomach open and your innards are dragging in the dust and you still need to get out of there—well, that counts as being out of homeostatic balance.

So to reestablish that balance, you secrete adrenaline and other hormones. You mobilize energy and you deliver it where it’s needed, you shut off the inessentials like the sex drive and digestion, you enhance immune defenses, and you think more clearly. You’re facing a short-term physical crisis, and the stress response is what you do with your body. For 99 percent of the species on this planet, stress is three minutes of screaming terror in the savannah, after which either it’s over with or you’re over with. That’s all you need to know about the subject if you’re a zebra or a lion.

If you’re a human, though, you’ve got to expand the definition of a stressor in a very critical way. If you’re running from a lion, your blood pressure is 180 over 120. But you’re not suffering from high blood pressure—you’re saving your life. Have this same thing happen when you’re stuck in traffic, and you’re not saving your life. Instead you are suffering from stress-induced hypertension.

We humans turn on the stress response with memories, with emotions, with thoughts, and the whole punch line is: That’s not what it evolved for. Do it regularly enough, and you’re going to damage your cardiovascular system. Increased blood flow hammers on the walls of your blood vessels, causing inflammation. Fat and glucose and cholesterol glom on and begin to clog your arteries. That’s bad news. You are more at risk for chronic fatigue, sleep disruption, muscle atrophy, and probably most importantly, adult-onset diabetes, this once obscure disease that’s just on the edge of being the number one killer in this country.

Chronic stress also does bad things to the nervous system. Stress kills neurons in the part of the brain called the hippocampus and weakens the cables between neurons, so they can’t talk to each other. This impairs the formation and retrieval of long-term memory. The opposite thing happens in the amygdala, which is where we see fear in a brain scanner. In the hippocampus, stress causes stuff to shrivel up. But stress feeds the amygdala. It actually gets bigger. Chronic stress creates a hyper-reactive, hysterical amygdala, and this tells us tons about what stress has to do with anxiety disorders.

Another domain: the mesolimbic dopamine system. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that is about reward and pleasure. Cocaine works on the dopamine system. All the euphorians do. What are the effects of chronic stress on this part of the brain? Those pathways get depleted of dopamine, and this takes away your ability to feel pleasure. So if stress depletes your dopamine, what have you just set yourself up for? Major depression.

What about the frontal cortex? It’s the most human part of the brain we’ve proportionally got more of it than any other species does. And what does the frontal cortex do? It does gratification postponement, self-discipline, long-term planning, emotional regulation. It’s the last part of the brain to fully mature—that doesn’t happen until you’re 25 years old, which explains a lot about the freshmen year of college.

This has a very interesting implication. If this is the last part of the brain to fully develop, by definition, then, it is the part of the brain least constrained by genes and most sculpted by experience. What does chronic stress do to the frontal cortex? Atrophy of neurons, disconnecting circuits. As a result, you make the most idiotic decisions, which are going to haunt you for the rest of your life, and yet you think they’re brilliant at the time. That’s another effect of chronic stress: Your judgment goes down the tubes.

How to manage stress

We’ve just gone on a quick tour of all the things that can go wrong from chronic stress. If you study the subject for a living, it’s amazing to you that anybody is still alive, that we haven’t just collapsed into puddles of stress-related disease.

Despite that, most of us do decent jobs at coping, and a subset of us is spectacular at coping. And thus from day one, stress researchers have wondered why some bodies and some psyches deal better with stress than others. In making sense of individual differences, what we’re essentially asking is, “What is it that makes psychological stress stressful”? And a huge elegant literature by now has shown precisely what the building blocks are.

The literature is built on experiments like this one: You have a lab rat in a cage, and every now and then, you give it a shock. Nothing major, but nonetheless, the rat’s blood pressure goes up and so do stress hormone levels. Up goes the risk of an ulcer. You are giving this rat a stress-related disease.

Now, in the second cage, there’s another rat. Every time the first rat gets a shock, so does the second. Same intensity, same duration, both of their bodies are being thrown out of homeostatic balance to exactly the same extent.

But there’s a critical difference: Every time the second rat gets a shock, it can go over to the other side of its cage, where there’s another rat that it can bite the crap out of. And you know what? This guy’s not going to get an ulcer, because he has an outlet for his frustrations. He has a hobby.

There are other stress experiments that involve torturing rats, which suggest ways for humans to manage stress. We can give the rat a warning 10 seconds before each shock, and we find it doesn’t get an ulcer. That tells us that you are less vulnerable to a stress-related disease if you get predictive information.

Another experiment: If we give the rat a lever to press, and that rat thinks he’s in control of the shocks, that helps—a sense of control decreases the stress response.

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Yet another experiment tells us it helps to have friends: If a rat getting shocks has a friend it likes in the cage, and they are able to groom each other, the rat doesn’t get the ulcer. So social affiliation helps control stress.

In short, you are more likely to get a stress response—more likely to subjectively feel stressed, more likely to get a stress-related disease—if you feel like you have no outlets for what’s going on, no control, no predictability, you interpret things as getting worse, and if you have nobody’s shoulder to cry on.

Okay, these are very powerful observations. They’re helpful. But please don’t assume that if you get as much control in your life and as much predictive information in your life as possible, you will be protected from stress. To understand why, let me share some of the subtleties of this field.

Look at the rat that got a warning. Timing is everything. He didn’t get an ulcer when he got a 10-second warning. But if the warning light goes on one second before the shock occurs, it has no positive effect whatsoever, because there isn’t time for the rat to adjust anything. Or suppose, instead, the warning light comes two minutes before. That will make the ulcers worse, because the rat is sitting there, ulcerating away, thinking, “Here it comes, here it comes, here it comes.” When it comes to predictive information, there’s only a narrow window where it works.

When does a sense of control work? When you’re dealing with a mild to moderate stressor, because in those circumstances you know how much worse it could have been and can imagine, rightly or wrongly, that you had control over that improvement. But if it’s a major disastrous stressor, the last thing you want is an inflated sense of control, because that sets you up to think that the disaster is all your fault. In the case of a major disaster, we tend to minimize people’s sense of control—by saying, for example, “It wouldn’t have mattered if you had gotten him to the doctor a month ago, it wouldn’t have made a difference.” And one of the worst things we do, societally, is attribute more control to victims: “Well, what’s she going to expect if she dresses that way?” or “Well, what are they going to expect if they choose not to assimilate?”

In short, a sense of control is protective for mild to moderate stressors, but it’s a disaster for major ones. In that domain, the most humane thing you can do is foster denial and rationalization rather than a sense of responsibility.

When is stress good?

Just as not all stress management techniques work, not all stress is bad. In fact, we love stress. We pay good money for it in a scary movie or on a roller coaster ride. We love stress when it’s the right amount of stress.

When is it optimal? When it’s only moderately stressful, at the most. And good stress is transient—it’s not for nothing that you don’t have roller coaster rides going for three weeks! The stress also has to be happening in a context that feels safe overall. Moderately stressful at most, transient, safe—what does that define?

That defines stimulation. That defines what play is. What is play about?

It’s when a higher rank dog says to a lower ranking dog: “I am willing to suspend our dominance relations right now and allow all sorts of unpredictable interactions. To show how much I’m doing that, I’m going to give you access to my throat or my genitals, and we’re just having a great time here playing.” In play, you feel safe, and as a result, you are willing to give up some control and predictability. We say, “Surprise me!” That’s good stress.

There’s another lesson we can learn from dogs and other hierarchical mammals, like baboons: Social rank can cause stress, especially where rankings are unstable and people are jockeying for position. But social rank is not as important as social context. What patterns of social affiliation do you have? How often do you groom, how often does somebody groom you? How often do you sit in contact and play with kids?

What’s clear by now is if you have a choice between being a high-ranking baboon or a socially affiliated one, the latter is definitely the one that is going to lead to a healthier, longer life. That’s the baboon we want to be—not the one with power, but the one with friends, neighbors, and family.

Watch the video: CJW Doc Minute: What does mean when my heart flutters? (December 2022).