Book Review: Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers

Health Professional

When I first heard about Robert Sapolsky's book, Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers, I thought it might be a perfect book to recommend to  people  about stress management, a crucial  aspect of pain management. The title and cover lured  me into thinking that this  would be  a fun, light-hearted read. After reading the first eight pages and coming to the sub-chapter titled, "Homeostasis Plus: The more stress-appropriate concept of allostasis," my eyes started to cross. This book is a clinical, scientific textbook in "zebra's" clothing. The author even goes so far as to disguise this scientific "wolf" of a book by placing warm fuzzy words like "Mothers," "Hot Fudge Sundaes," and "Sex" in the table of contents. Don't be fooled. Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers is not for the faint-at-heart reader.

In order to spare you the drudgery, I will tell you the keys to stress management according to Robert Sapolsky, a leading scientist in the field of stress-related diseases. Keep in mind that stress and pain form a vicious cycle. In fact, it can feel like  your pain gets plugged into an amplifier when your are experiencing the stress of losing a home, a job, or a friend. Here are some tips from Sapolsky's book to help you unplug from  stress and turn down the volume of your pain.

  • 1. "Hope for the best and let that dominate most of your emotions, but at the same time let one piece of you prepare for the worst."
  • 2. Try to control the present stress. Don't try to control things that have already happened. Don't try to control the uncontrollable future.
  • 3. Seek out information that can help you right now, but don't overwhelm yourself with too much information or worse news than you care to know about.
  • 4. Find an outlet for your frustrations that is not harmful to you or others.
  • 5. Surround yourself in good, positive people and friends.

After summarizing his points about managing stress, the author admits that most of what he just said is actually encapsulated in the famous prayer:

"God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference."

Does that sound familiar? That's right, this prayer is used by Alcoholics Anonymous because alcoholism is a disease often associated with stress.  Ultimately, ending with these practical points did salvage the book from a scientific, theory-based quagmire. So, if you happen to have this book or want to take a look at it yourself, consider skipping to the last chapter (on stress management) first--it's truly the most valuable part of Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers.