Re: Is Medicine Healthy? addiction to stress

Anders Sandberg (
07 Apr 1999 21:46:33 +0200

Interesting points about stress. There are definitely people around who have a constant level of arousal that is very high, quite likely so high it is deleterious.

[Note that this is not necessarily stress; stress is defined as states where your coping mechanisms are not enough to meet the demands of the stressors, not just going around with lots of hormones and a brain on noradrenaline. ]

Arousal is in some ways addictive: it enhances learning which is good - we quickly learn about dangers, but it also means we more easily can develop habits that lead to arousal (at least when it is originally tied to some positive reinforcement; think action movies). It is *fun* to be aroused. But the effects of going in a constant corticosteroid "high" are similar to being stressed all the time - burnout, neural damage, cardiovascular disease, negative personality traits being overexpressed and so on. It is the short bursts of arousal that feel the best and work best, the long periods of high tension are deleterious.

> Lyle Burkhead said...
> >Is the list healthy?
> >I had forgotten how much stress is involved in reading the list...
> > But I wonder, what
> effect do e-mail arguments have on our health? In spite of our talk about
> life extension, we may all die before our time, just from the stress.

A good point. Of course, there is one thing to read a mail by some idiot that makes your blood pressure rise and makes you bang an answering post on the keboard - that is just a quick arousal peak and likely not that dangerous if it is relatively rare (although it might still be worth thinking about exactly why you react like you do, this behavior might not be good for you). The problems start when your blood pressure and skin conductance begins to rise just by looking on the posts of the list, or when you get the above peak effects so often they start to overlap. Then the more dangerous long-term arousal effects tend to develop; since the list is smaller than the rest of life (for some of us :-) the effect will likely be burnout and leaving after a while.

"david gobel" <> writes:

> In my household I performed an experiment on my clinically depressed son. Ad
> libidum entertainment was appx 2 1/2 hours video games, of the shooter type.
> TV was appx 4.5 hours of the edited R type (heavy action/violence) and
> cynical comedy of the seinfeld/satnitelive ilk. Comics appx 1/2 hour of
> team/gang warfare type...X Men. He was on St. Johns Wort and could/should
> have been on stronger stuff, constant arguments w/parents, zero interest in
> needs of others, growing intolerance and verbal and very mild physical abuse
> to younger sister,total and absolute self absorption, growing obesity etc ad
> nauseum...While on a walk I described to him the symptoms, causes and cure
> approaches to drug addiction
> and then asked him to consider the possibility of his having become addicted
> to his own hormones.
> As an experiment, we BOTH went on a media TV or Video games for 7
> days.

Interesting experiment! I like it. Of course, this is just an individual case and the exact mechanisms involved are likely more involved than just overstimulation and stress, but it shows that rational "home cures" can work.

I have for a long time been waguely thinking about the need for calmer media. As an information addict I spend most of my waking hours in front of a computer, television or a book. And I have definitely noticed negative effects on my thinking when I get too much arousal into this mix (just a short break, I have to rush to my printer to get a 50 page article on the neuroscience of emotion, and then I have to browse these pages and fix that simulation... :-). Add to this normal stress and caffeine... ouch.

But there are interesting possibilities beside trying to avoid drinking too much coca cola, flaming on the web, not reading everything interesting and not playing Civilization II until 5 in the morning. Technological fixes are after all a favorite matter on this list :-)

For example, I wonder if windowing systems and multitasking on computers do not encourage fragmented thinking. It is too easy to start up a browser to look for new information (and then we hypertext away). Windows pop up on their own. Mail arrive - the computer beeps. Maybe we should start looking at interfaces that are *less* responsive? The same might go for other media - maybe scrapping the remote control?

> I have more to say, but i'll stop here cause I talk too much.

> dave gobel
> If we can't make it to 10,000 what's the point?

Exactly. And I want to be a relaxed, interested decimillenarian.

Anders Sandberg                                      Towards Ascension!                  
GCS/M/S/O d++ -p+ c++++ !l u+ e++ m++ s+/+ n--- h+/* f+ g+ w++ t+ r+ !y