Why Zebras (and tomcats) Do Not Get Ulcers or...Rocky’s Guide to a More Stress-Free Life

Friends For Life

Here’s some of what I know about humans so far:

  1. You smell funny.
  2. You pee in your water. It’s weird.
  3. You assume we want you to pat us on the head when you never go around greeting each other by patting each other’s heads.
  4. You can be warm to cuddle with.
  5. You never seem to catch anything and yet still you just have great stuff to eat. Oh wait, that’s me too.
  6. You don’t get spayed nearly as early or as often as you advocate it for us and frankly, I’m not sure that’s such a stellar plan for you.
  7. You will stare at a screen with pictures of a cat on it for hours instead of petting the actual cat in the room.
  8. You generate stress -- basically stuff you make up in your head --and then you become your own worst enemy.

One of you has figured it out. The rest of you should listen to him. Dr. Robert Sapolsky in “Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers:”

He says, “stress kills slowly, suppressing the immune system, shutting down growth, and eroding memory and the ability to learn.”

Why Zebras Handle Stress Better Than Humans

Many of Sapolsky’s insights regarding the effects of stress first emerged during the years he spent studying primates in the Serengeti in Africa. “Stress is anything in the external world that knocks you out of homeostatic balance, “Sapolsky said. “Let’s say you’re a zebra, and a lion has leaped out, ripped your stomach out. . . this counts as being out of homeostatic balance.”

For a zebra, though, stress had an extremely short if potentially deadly span; it was “three minutes of screaming terror” after which the animal was either dead or once again roaming the Savannah and feeling safe. Human beings, on the other hand, had an “anticipatory stress response” that spun easily out of control, like a car losing traction on an icy slope.

“If you think you’re about to be knocked out of homeostatic balance and really aren’t, and this happens on a regular basis, then you’re being anxious. . . paranoid. . . profoundly human,” Saplosky said. And when that stress response is turned on chronically, “We get sick.”

So you get it. Stress is bad. But maybe you don't know how to have less of it. 

I’m here to give you some tips from the animal world to help you out. 

Some of these are trade secrets so be cool.

1….and I can’t emphasize this enough…Sleep. I get 22 or so hours a day. Maybe you can’t get that much. But if you can possibly make a choice between starting a new project at midnight or getting some sleep…sleep, you big anxious, hairless monkeys.

2. Eat. (Bonus if you can get someone to serve it to you in your bed like I do.) Don’t starve yourselves or brag that you are so productive you forgot to eat. Do you think Darwinism ever favored any species that ‘forgot to eat?” Not adaptive.

3. Quit worrying about what people think about you. In the words of the immortal poet Taylor Swift, “Haters gonna hate.”

4. Get some sun. Seriously. I know you all have dermatologists now and you can lather up with sunblock, but find a sunny spot and lie down in it for a while. You think those rays keep the planet alive by accident? No. Get you some.

5. Bathe in public by licking your...nevermind. You're not ready. 

6. Find a friend. Some of you talk about adopting us.  But Im thinking you may want to adopt each other a little too. You know, bring each other a snack, take a nap together just hang out and watch dogs do goofy stuff in the parking lot. Buddy and I are pals. He’s kind of a taco short of a combo platter but he’s my friend.

7. You knew it was coming--adopt one of us and get a stress coach. We lower your blood pressure, reduce depression and even make you emo-humans more social.  We give you unconditional love (conditioned only a little on Fancy Feast). We bring structure to your life, help you get exercise and we actually extend your lifespan. You're freakin welcome. 

(and dude, adopt us from a No Kill shelter because get this, shelters are the #1 cause of death for animals in the U.S. 

Yep, it's like Shark Week for us all the time. Pick a shelter that is not whacking us like Sopranos when you adopt because those are the ones who see the value in a guy like me. No lie, other shelters would  have offed me. I'd be sleeping with the fishes. Not at all cool.) 

There you have it. The Rock's Guide to not breathing like a hamster. Unless you are a hamster. Then go for it, bro. 

So until next time, just simmer down.

Rocky