Vigor Improvement Practices—Stress Management and Sleep

Dr. Shawn Talbott (Ph.D., CNS, LDN, FACSM, FACN, FAIS) has gone from triathlon struggler to gut-brain guru! With a Ph.D. in Nutritional Biochemistry, he's on a mission to boost everyday human performance through the power of natural solutions and the gut-brain axis.

Want to feel better than you’ve ever felt? 

Here’s another excerpt from my 10th book, The Secret of VigorHow to Overcome Burnout, Restore Biochemical Balance and Reclaim Your Natural Energy

 Some of the most popular New Year’s resolutions every year are:

*Lose Weight

*Get in Shape

*Reduce Stress

*Get Healthier

*Win the Lottery

The Secret of Vigor can help you with 4 out of 5 of the most popular resolution goals, so I’ll be posting excerpts from the book for the next several weeks – so please stay tuned for each installment. 

If you simply can’t wait, then you can certainly get a copy at or at your favorite library or bookstore.

 Vigor Improvement Practices—Stress Management and Sleep


We know from studies of animals and humans that at least three factors can make a huge difference in how the body responds to a given stressor:

1. whether the stress has any outlet

2. whether the stressor is predictable

3. whether the human or animal thinks it has any control over the stressor

These three factors—outlet, predictability, and control—emerge as modulating factors again and again in research studies of stress. For example, if you put a rat in a cage and subject it to a series of low-voltage electric shocks, the rat develops metabolic imbalance and stomach ulcers (wouldn’t you?).

If you take another rat, give it the same series of shocks, but also give it an outlet for its stress—such as something to chew on, something to eat, or a wheel to run on—it is able to maintain biochemical balance and does not get ulcers. The same is true for humans under stress: Go for a run, scream at the wall, or do something else that serves as an outlet for maintaining metabolic balance, and you can counteract or at least modulate many of the detrimental effects of stress. 

Let’s turn now to the second of the three stress modulators: predictability. Suppose someone woke you up in the middle of the night, put you on a plane, and then made you jump out of it at ten thousand feet. Pretty stressful, huh? This experience would certainly be accompanied by elevated heart rate and blood pressure, changes in blood levels of glucose and fatty acids, and, of course, a huge disruption in biochemical balance. What do you think would happen if you were forced to do this every other night for the next few months? Far from being a stressed-out bundle of nerves, you would actually get accustomed to it—and your stress response would become less pronounced. This scenario has actually been studied in U.S. Army Rangers who were training at “jump school” to become paratroopers. At the start of training, the soldiers endured enormous increases in stress-hormone levels during each jump (indicating they were out of biochemical balance). But by the end of the course, their stress responses were virtually nonexistent. By making the stressor more predictable (you know it is coming, and you are prepared for it), the stress response of each soldier was controlled to a much greater degree.

Finally, the concept of control is central to understanding why some people respond to a stressor with gigantic disruptions in biochemical balance, while others respond to the same stressor with little more than a yawn. This idea has been demonstrated in rats that have been trained to press a lever to avoid getting shocked. Every time the rat gets shocked, it presses the lever, and the next shock is delayed for several minutes. Because the rat has some degree of control over his situation, it also has a lower occurrence of stress-related diseases (such as ulcers and infections). An interesting comparison can be made to people working under high-stress conditions, such as during a period of corporate layoffs. For many workers, this situation is one of high instability and low control (thus high stress), while others, perhaps those in a department that will be unaffected by job cuts or among people who have a “fallback” plan (such as a part-time job on the side), experience much less stress and fewer health problems. 

Keep in mind that the concept of control does not mean that you need to try to gain a high degree of control over every aspect of your life, because trying to do so can actually increase your stress and lead to a high degree of metabolic imbalance. Instead, managing stress usually means doing your best to control those things you have the power to control and accepting those things that you have little (or no) control over.

The strategies outlined in the next section may also be useful to you in grappling with the all-important issue of stress as part of your comprehensive approach to raising your level of vigor.

About the Author

Exercise physiologist (MS, UMass Amherst) and Nutritional Biochemist (PhD, Rutgers) who studies how lifestyle influences our biochemistry, psychology and behavior - which kind of makes me a "Psycho-Nutritionist"?!?!

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