Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers: A Book Review

Did you know most animals do not get ulcers? Or suffer these kinds of physical ailments from stress? To be honest I never really thought about this before reading this book. If you’re not familiar with Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers by Robert M. Sapolsky, I can’t say I’m surprised. I only heard about the book when I was taking an 8-hour online course during my practicum. But it sounded interested. The subtitle is The Acclaimed Guide to Stress, Stress-Related Diseases, and Coping. If you have a chronic illness then this may be a good read to get some more understanding.

I bought it off of Amazon, but it should be available at your local bookstore or library as well.

What I liked about the book:
To start off, the subject matter is interesting. We hear a lot about how stress is involved with chronic illness, but how exactly does that work? That’s what this book aims to explain. It also gives anecdotes from the animal kingdom in every chapter, explaining how different animals react to stressors. The primary focus of the book is certainly on the physiological responses to stress, so there is a lot about the brain in their, with a touch of psychological responses (I would’ve preferred more). Overall it uses the biopsychosocial approach, which I definitely stand behind. There is also a chapter on stress-management, which is helpful.
The chapters are as follows: (1) Why Don’t Zebras Get Ulcers? (2) Glands, Gooseflesh and Hormones, (3) Stroke, Heart Attacks and Voodoo Death, (4) Stress, Metabolism, and Liquidating Your Assets, (5) Ulcers, the Runs, and Hot Fudge Sundaes, (6) Dwarfism and the Importance of Mothers, (7) Sex and Reproduction, (8) Immunity, Stress and Disease, (9) Stress and Pain, (10) Stress and Memory, (11) Stress and a Good Night’s Sleep, (12) Aging and Death, (13) Why is Psychological Stress Stressful? (14) Stress and Depression, (15) Personality, Temperament, and Their Stress-Related Consequences, (16) Junkies, Adrenaline Junkies, and Pleasure, (17) The View from the Bottom, and (18) Managing Stress.
If any of this sounds relevant to you, it may be worth checking out this book.

One of my stress management techniques (since childhood).

What I Didn’t Like About the Book: There are a few drawbacks to the book in my opinion. First, it’s pretty sciency. He does try to make it readable for lay people, but even with my masters in counselling psychology, I got a little overwhelmed by the neuroscience aspect of the book, which was a lot of it. So be prepared to wade through if you want to read it. The other thing I didn’t like was his use of language, which was very outdated. For example, he constantly referred to people with depression as “depressives,” which is stigmatizing and just not right in my opinion. He did this with other conditions as well. It brings up with the people first vs. illness first argument, which I’m not going to get into here, but it bothered me, as a person (and as a mental health professional).

Would I recommend it? Yes. Look, overall I think there is a ton of great and interesting info in there. Will it make you feel better? Not necessarily, but I’m all for having a better understanding of what’s going on in my body, that way I can take appropriate steps to help myself. For example, mindfulness has a large evidence base of helping with stress, and I therefore, practice meditation and other mindfulness techniques on a regular basis.

A mindful moment.

As I keep reading, I’ll keep sharing. And I hope you all keep making the most of it!

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All the Cozy Things for Fall & Winter

This is a self-care type of post I supposed but in the past week of not being able to do much, I’ve been thinking about how, even during a pandemic, there are amazing, cozy, self-care activities… well, activities in general… we can do inside and at-home during the winter. I live in Canada, so winters are already long, and yesterday I watched a news report where experts said the “darkest” months for Covid will be January-March so I guess we should be prepared for the continuation of strict measures.

Image from: http://www.ottawafamilyliving.com/cozy-home-cozy-life-preparations-winter/

Let’s start off with some of my favourite things to wear. Pyjamas – because as spoonies we can’t have enough of these – and especially cozy ones like fleece or flannel. Who doesn’t want to lounge around in PJs all day, especially when it’s cold and gloomy outside. Sweaters are another one. Big, comfy, cozy sweaters. And for the holiday season, Ugly Christmas Sweaters (I have three Star Wars ones… I don’t think they’re ugly though!). Sweaters can also just make you feel warm and relaxed – at least I think so! Finally, slipping on some of those fuzzy socks, or a nice pair of slippers (my feet always get cold first… also I can’t get on socks at the moment because of my surgery, so I’m looking forward to 5 weeks from now when I can properly dress myself again).

New fall/winter sweater I ordered online.

Part 2: Delicious Drinks. Hot chocolate, coffee, and tea. All of these just feel warm and wintery. I maybe have hot chocolate once a year because it’s way too sweet. What I do like are some of Starbucks’ holiday drinks like the peppermint mocha (half sweet though) because it gives that combo of hot chocolate and coffee (best of both worlds)! Though if you have any local coffee places that make something similar, I definitely encourage you to support them instead! Or if you don’t want to go out, there are tons of recipes online to make them at home! Teas are all great. Usually in the winter I end up preferring black tea over coffee at some point and switch over in the mornings. I also love herbal teas. Peppermint tea is another great wintery classic.

Image (and recipe) from: https://bakingmischief.com/peppermint-mocha/

Finally, being creative. Baking, doing crafts, decorating your house, playing music, reading, and even some throw backs like playing board and card games (instead of video games) and doing puzzles can be great ways to get through the extra in door time. Varying up the routine to prevent boredom is essential (my parents used to tell us that “if you’re bored, you must be boring.”). These things all have a cozy, wintery feel to them (yes they can all be done throughout the year) and maybe that’s just some nostalgia from memories of growing up in a snow-infested, bitter-cold province.

Image (and recipes) from: https://www.chatelaine.com/food/kitchen-tips/baking-perfect-christmas-cookies/

I think my point here, is that we can help our health and our mental health by thinking outside of the box and making ourselves feel good with the little things. Because sometimes little things can have big impacts. Keep making the most of it, folks!

Summertime Self-Care

Every time I say the word summertime I start singing: “Summertime and the livin’ is easy.” I think it’s from playing it in high school jazz band many moons ago, and actually when I pulled my sax out in the spring it was an easy song to get back into and play. Yes, here in Canada we are already half way through summer because let’s face it, summer is June, July, August, and if we’re lucky, September. That doesn’t mean we should talk about some summer-related self-care we are all hopefully engaging in, and if not, then it’s not too late to start!

IMG_7450Hot town, summer in the city.

Obviously this year is a bit different due to the pandemic which is spiking and second waving in certain parts of the world, while other parts (ahem USA) haven’t finished their first wave yet. But there are still some activities I’ve found to do this summer that have been great for my body, mind, and spirit – three important aspects of self-care. Personally, I think spending as much time as possible outside is really important for my mental health. If you live anywhere that gets a long, cold winter (Canada, northern US, Russia, Scandinavia, etc) then you understand how much needed the summer sun is. Whether it’s sitting in your back (or front) yard, on your porch, your balcony (apartment dwellers), a bench in a park, or wherever, getting outside for at least an hour a day can make you feel a lot better. And many other favourite self-care activities can be done outside – meditation, yoga, reading, etc.

IMG_7827Backyard chillaxin’ with Spike!

If you’re looking for something a little more physical, I’ve talked about hiking and kayaking, but really any outdoor sport you’re capable of doing is great, even just going for a walk. If it’s safe to do so, having dinner or a drink with a friend on a patio (social distanced of course) can be a good way to get some social self-care in, which many of us weren’t able to do (other than Zoom) during self-isolation. So if you’re in a place that is a little more open and not currently spiking, and you’re safe to do so, getting out with a friend or two might be a good idea.

IMG_7671I always aim to get a little movement in!

Whatever you decide to do for summertime self-care, just make sure you’re staying safe, wearing a mask, and continuing to social distance until the medical professionals tell us it’s safe to do otherwise. Yes, this year is different, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t still be taking care of ourselves.