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Part 2 - Dealing with Stress - BBC Explorations
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Stress can kill. It can destroy our mind and our body, silently and secretly. But stress originally evolved to help us survive. Now scientists have discovered how we can control and even reverse and its harmful effects.
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Stress can kill. It can destroy our mind and our body, silently and secretly. But stress originally evolved to help us survive.
At a traditional Spanish bull festival, firefighter Andy Mintner, is wired up to show how his body responds in the face of mortal danger like being chased through the streets by a herd of rampaging bulls. As the bulls draw nearer his body is flooded by powerful stress hormones, adrenaline and cortisol, that fire his body into action allowing him to think and run faster than he ever has before.
Stress saves Andys life but switch it on hour after hour, day after day and the effects can be fatal. The demands of modern life are leaving one in four of us permanently stressed. No longer concerned about predators, today were getting stressed about work, relationships, money and health. Over time the powerful stress hormones cripple our immune system and put dangerous pressure on our hearts.
Jude Meadows is a highflying businesswoman who allows the stress of her job to push her dangerously close to the edge. Although she loves the adrenaline rush of corporate life, sleepless nights and high blood pressure are having an impact on her health. The final alarm bell comes during an important business meeting when Jude bursts a blood vessel. She decides its time to do something about her stress levels.
It seems that Jude may be predisposed to stress. Science is just discovering that personality could be the key in controlling our stress response. Jude is whats known as a type A personality a perfectionist, an impatient, ambitious, fast talker, somebody who cant switch off. But incredibly the work thats revealing these links isnt being done on humans but one of our close ancestors.
In the Serengeti in Africa, Professor Robert Sapolsky, is discovering that when it comes to stress we have a lot in common with baboons. For the past 26 years he has been measuring the levels of hormones in male baboons and has shown that stress-related diseases such as heart disease are dependant on personality. Type A personalities are more susceptible to stress. But if youre a type A personality like Jude it doesnt mean youre stuck with it forever.
Jude is working hard to deal with her stress. Twice a day she takes twenty minutes out to meditate. After six months her blood pressure is normal. Meditation, it seems, is very effective at controlling the stress response. At Harvard University, Dr Herbert Benson and Dr Sarah Lazar are trying to find out why.
Using an MRI scanner they are looking inside the meditating brain and discovering that meditation not only controls our heart and breathing rates but allows us to become more alert. Dr Herbert Benson calls this the relaxation response the bodys innate ability to deal with the harmful effects of stress. And you dont just have to meditate to do it. Dancing, prayer and exercise are just some of the ways we can all deal with our stress and improve our health.
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