StressStop Blog

A Stress Management Seminar Taught by a Cat

Jim Porter, M.A.L.S., President, StressStop.comMonday, July 11th, 2011

I'm learning a lot about stress management by watching my cat. Whenever he sees me he stretches out in the most luxurious way and purrs appreciatively when I bend down to pet him. He NEVER eats when he's not hungry and he ALWAYS sleeps whenever he's the least bit tired.

But his life isn't completely devoid of stress, either. We live on an acre of land in the woods and we regularly see all sorts of wildlife in our backyard including a fox that comes through every day and a coyote that comes by occasionally. Despite these potential killers invading his territory, my cat remains a very cool customer.

Jim Porter's cat hiding in the grass.

Now we human beings talk about how it's a jungle out there but for my cat it really is. Whenever he walks out our front door, his life really is in danger. And he handles this REAL danger with more serenity and aplomb than I could ever hope to maintain in my much safer world of lost keys, traffic jams and occasional arguments with family members.

In his book, Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers, author and Stanford Professor Robert Sapolsky, writes that the reason Zebras don't get ulcers is that they don't think about the danger when it's not there. So I guess it's safe to say, that my cat isn't thinking about the fox unless he's in plain sight. We humans on the other hand, are famous for thinking about our stress at all hours of the day or night. In fact, I'm probably more stressed out about the possibility of the fox getting my cat than my cat is.

But I have noticed that the cat has made some minor adjustments lately. He no longer goes out for the night. He sleeps indoors now. And while he still sleeps outside during the day, he only does so on the roof of our car where he can see things coming from far away.

Several times our cat has come back from the surrounding woods with nicks and cuts and other scraps. And one time it was so bad we had to take him to the vet to drain an infected wound. But his antidote to major stressful events like these is simply to take whatever time he needs to recover (so he sleeps on the sofa for two days straight) and then he goes back outside, with the same serenity, equanimity he has maintained almost every hour of every day of his life. He's always cautious, but never anxious, unless something is directly threatening him. He's totally in the moment.

So what have I learned about stress management from my cat? Live in the moment. Don't worry about stress unless it's staring you in the face. Make minor adjustments when you have ongoing stress and trust that these adjustments will work out until they don't. And give yourself plenty of recovery time, after a really stressful event takes place. Get plenty of sleep. Don't eat unless you're hungry. Stretch regularly and most importantly, purr whenever you're feeling really good.

Cover of the book Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers
Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers
How stress affects sleep and addiction, as well as new insights into anxiety and personality disorder and the impact of spirituality on managing stress. As Sapolsky explains, most of us do not lie awake at night worrying about whether we have leprosy or malaria. Instead, the diseases we fear-and the ones that plague us now-are illnesses brought on by the slow accumulation of damage, such as heart disease and cancer. When we worry or experience stress, our body turns on the same physiological responses that an animal's does, but we do not resolve conflict in the same way-through fighting or fleeing. Over time, this activation of a stress response makes us literally sick. Combining cutting-edge research with a healthy dose of good humor and practical advice, Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers explains how prolonged stress causes or intensifies a range of physical and mental afflictions, including depression, ulcers, colitis, heart disease, and more. It also provides essential guidance to controlling our stress responses. This new edition promises to be the most comprehensive and engaging one yet.
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