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What Can we Learn about Stress from Cavemen and Polar Bears?

I talk about cavemen and polar bears quite often in my therapy room. Usually this is to explain that when we have a stress response, our body is reacting to a perceived threat (the polar bear.) This blog explains not only what our stress response is, how it affects us, but also how we can learn from those polar bears and cavemen I so often talk about……

Stress is a natural and inevitable part of life. It can help us survive, adapt, and grow. But too much stress can also harm our physical and mental health. That's why it's important to understand how our stress response works and how we can manage it effectively.

What is the Stress Response?

The stress response is the way our body reacts to any perceived threat or challenge. It involves a complex interaction of hormones, nerves, and organs that prepare us to fight, flee, or freeze.

The main hormone involved in the stress response is cortisol, which is released by the adrenal glands. Cortisol has many effects on the body, such as:

- Increasing blood pressure, heart rate, and blood sugar

- Suppressing the immune system and digestion

- Enhancing memory and attention

- Reducing pain and inflammation

These effects are useful in the short term, as they help us cope with the immediate danger. However, if the stress is chronic or prolonged, cortisol can have negative consequences, such as:

- Anxiety, depression, and insomnia

- Weight gain, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease

- Impaired memory and cognition

- Increased risk of infections and chronic diseases

How to Manage Your Stress Like a Polar Bear

One way to manage your stress is to learn from the polar bear. Polar bears are exposed to extreme environmental stressors, such as cold temperatures, scarce food, and predators. Yet they have evolved to cope with these challenges by regulating their cortisol levels.

Researchers have found that polar bears have a unique mechanism that allows them to lower their cortisol levels when they are fasting or hibernating. This helps them conserve energy, prevent muscle loss, and maintain their health.

We can emulate the polar bear by finding ways to reduce our cortisol levels when we are not facing an immediate threat. Some of the ways we can do this are:

- Practicing relaxation techniques, such as breathing exercises, meditation, yoga, or massage

- Getting enough sleep and rest

- Eating a balanced diet and avoiding caffeine, alcohol, and sugar

- Exercising regularly and moderately

- Seeking social support and positive relationships

How to Manage Your Stress Like a Caveman

Another way to manage your stress is to learn from the caveman. Cavemen lived in a harsh and unpredictable world, where they had to deal with predators, famine, disease, and natural disasters. Yet they also had a simple and satisfying lifestyle, where they focused on their basic needs and goals.

The caveman had a different mindset than us. He did not worry about the past or the future. He did not compare himself to others or seek external validation. He did not dwell on his problems or emotions. He just lived in the present moment and took action.

We can emulate the caveman by adopting a more solution-focused approach to our stress. Some of the ways we can do this are:

- Identifying our sources of stress and finding ways to eliminate or reduce them

- Setting realistic and achievable goals and working towards them

- Focusing on our strengths and resources rather than our weaknesses and limitations

- Accepting what we cannot change and changing what we can

- Celebrating our successes and learning from our failures


Stress is inevitable, but it does not have to be harmful. We can learn from the polar bear and the caveman how to manage our stress effectively. By lowering our cortisol levels when we are not in danger and adopting a solution-focused mindset when we are facing challenges, we can improve our physical and mental well-being.

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