Stress and Your Body

Course No. 1585
Professor Robert Sapolsky, Ph.D.
Stanford University
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107 Reviews
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Course No. 1585
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  • You should buy video if you prefer learning visually and wish to take advantage of the visual elements featured in this course. The video version is not heavily illustrated, featuring around 150 images and graphics. These include diagrams of how stress affects our cardiovascular and digestive systems, illustrations of the nuts-and-bolts of the human stress response system, and detailed images of the human brain and other organs impacted by stress.
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Course Overview

Feeling stressed? You're not alone. Stress is an inherent aspect of life in the 21st-century world. Regardless of the cause, stress is bound to affect you at some point during your day or week.

And stress can have tremendous negative effects on your mental and physical health. Most Western diseases that slowly get us sick—heart disease, diabetes, stroke—are worsened by stress. Chronic illnesses like rheumatoid arthritis and depression often flare up during repeated instances of stress. This makes coping with stress a critical part of how well we live.

But take heart. Because once you understand the inner workings of our stress response system and its inextricable links to all aspects of your personal health, you'll find yourself in possession of powerful knowledge that will help you understand and better deal with this common aspect of your busy life.

Now, from one of the world's foremost researchers on stress and neurobiology comes Stress and Your Body—a fascinating 24-lecture course that guides you through the psychological and psychosocial stress that is a central part of everyday life in Western society. With the guidance of Dr. Robert Sapolsky, acclaimed Professor of Biology, Neurology, and Neurosurgery at Stanford University and one of our most popular professors, you'll explore the nuts and bolts of the stress-response system and its various effects on your body.

What, Exactly, Is Stress?

Simply put, the stress-response system is a natural, highly adaptive survival system. Imagine you're a zebra being chased by a lion across some grassy savannah. Once you've recognized the threat, your stress-response system will divert energy from storage sites throughout your body to your muscles and inhibit unessential processes like digestion and reproduction, allowing you to flee faster from danger.

For animals, of course, coping with stress isn't a big deal; once they've escaped danger, their bodies and minds soon return to a balanced state. But for humans under chronic stress, there is rarely such a return.

Why? Because, for humans, the stress response is triggered not so much by life-or-death situations as by psychological reasons it wasn't designed to combat, such as

  • traffic tie-ups that double the time it takes for you to get to work;
  • complicated home repairs you haven't gotten around to making;
  • troublesome thoughts and recurring memories; and
  • worries about the economy, the environment, and international events.

In fact, as you quickly discover in this lecture series, the chronic stress that most of us face every day can turn the stress response from a safety mechanism into a real problem for our physical and mental well-being.

At the heart of any serious discussion of the impact of chronic stress on your body and mind lie some pointed questions:

  • How does everyday stress affect the way your brain behaves?
  • Why do some people adapt to stress more easily than others?
  • What occurs at the neurological level during periods of emotional trauma?
  • Why does stress not just impact your mind (where it's rooted) but your body as well?
  • Why does stress prompt you to do certain things, like eat and sleep more (or less)?

The science behind these and other questions is captivating in its intricacies.

Explore the Biology of Stress ...

With the same dynamic teaching skills that won him the Walter J. Gores Award for Excellence in Teaching—Stanford's highest teaching honor—Professor Sapolsky guides you through the specific systems of your body in the search for the biological effects of stress. He first details how the stress response normally works for both humans and the hypothetical hunted zebra, then delves into what happens to these systems when the stress response doesn't shut down.

Among the specific organ systems you explore in Stress and Your Body are these:

  • Cardiovascular system: When stress hits, your blood pressure and heart rate rise, and blood is diverted from nonessential areas (like your gut) to critical ones (such as your muscles). When activated chronically, however, the stress-response system can damage your heart muscles and blood vessels.
  • Digestive system: Chronic stress can wreak havoc with your digestive system and can even shut it down. This can lead to debilitating diseases and problems with your digestion.
  • Reproductive system: Not only is chronic stress directly related to problems with reproduction, it affects the reproductive systems of men and women in different ways. Sustained stress can decrease the likelihood of ovulation and increase erectile dysfunction. For both sexes, however, libido is often greatly impaired.
  • Immune system: Your immune system is designed to protect you from all sorts of pathogens. Unfortunately, when hit repeatedly with stress, your immune defenses are often impaired, resulting in more frequent, prolonged, or severe cases of diseases ranging from mononucleosis to the common cold.

This systems approach helps you better grasp the detailed science and biology behind stress. It also allows you to draw pointed comparisons with stress's effects on individual systems of the body—sometimes separately, sometimes simultaneously. You'll quickly discover that stress doesn't affect just one part of the body, but it also has a domino effect in which your entire body can become damaged by the effects of chronic stress.

You'll also get a chance to explore the physiological effects of stress on other parts of your health, including your

  • physical growth and development,
  • sleep cycle,
  • memory and judgment, and
  • pain threshold.

... and the Psychology of Stress

But the biology of stress is only one-half of the puzzle. Stress and Your Body also brings you up close and personal with the psychological underpinnings and effects of stress. There are powerful psychological factors that modulate how we respond to stress and that are instrumental in damaging not just our brains—but our psyches.

Among the psychological disorders and damaging behaviors that Professor Sapolsky explores are

  • depression, the genetics of which are indelibly linked to the genetics of one's vulnerability to stress;
  • anxiety, which is rooted in the amygdala—a part of our brain that is extremely sensitive to one class of stress hormones; and
  • addiction, which can be directly related to increased levels of stress hormones in the body, whether it's an addiction to drugs or to new sensations.

Additionally, an individual's place in society plays a key role in both the creation and impact of stress. Toward the end of the course, you'll spend some time studying the relationship between low socioeconomic status and high stress levels—along with the poor health to which they lead.

Discover the Key to Change

With Stress and Your Body, you'll be learning about this integral—for better or worse—aspect of daily life from an engaging and insightful teacher. Professor Sapolsky knows just how important it is to understand the workings of stress, but he also flavors his lectures with humor and practical tips for stress management that you can incorporate into your lifestyle.

Professor Sapolsky's unique teaching methods, in which profound insights, eye-opening concepts, and rigorous scientific support are intertwined with an informal delivery style, make the study of this topic absolutely illuminating.

"It's possible for us to change," he notes with characteristic enthusiasm at one point in Stress and Your Body. "It's hard in terms of there being no free lunch. But nonetheless, change can occur."

And the key to changing the impact of stress in your life, whether at work or at home, is a thorough knowledge of how and why it works on your mind and body. All of which you'll find right here in these dynamic lectures.

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24 lectures
 |  Average 30 minutes each
  • 1
    Why Don't Zebras Get Ulcers? Why Do We?
    In Professor Sapolsky's introductory lecture, get a behind-the-scenes look at the science of stress and preview the groundwork for the course ahead. What exactly happens to our bodies when we come under stress? And how is our response to stress different from that of a zebra being hunted al ong a savannah? x
  • 2
    The Nuts and Bolts of the Stress-Response
    Every time you have a thought or emotion, things change in your body. Here, explore the two factors responsible for these changes: the nervous system and hormones. Learn how these systems work, how they're regulated, and—most important—what happens to them during moments of stress. x
  • 3
    Stress and Your Heart
    Armed with the necessary background information, explore how specific organ systems suffer when faced with chronic stress. In the first of a series of lectures on this subject, learn how long-term stress can damage heart muscles, inflame and clog blood vessels, and even lead to sudden cardiac arrest. x
  • 4
    Stress, Metabolism, and Liquidating Your Assets
    The next organ system you focus on: the metabolic system. Discover how cycles of chronic stress lead to a persistent activating and storing of energy, which in turn can lead to an inefficient use of energy and play a critical role in the prevalence of adult-onset diabetes. x
  • 5
    Stress, Overeating, and Your Digestive Tract
    Focus now on the role stress plays in our gastrointestinal tracts. Why do most of us eat more during stressful periods? How does stress affect bowel disorders like irritable bowel syndrome and spastic colons? And how does stress combine with a bacterial infection to produce a common stress-related disease: ulcers? x
  • 6
    Stress and Growth—Echoes from the Womb
    The first of two lectures on stress and child development takes you inside prenatal and postnatal life. Using two extraordinary examples, Professor Sapolsky reveals the ways a fetus can respond to the environmental stressors of its mother, and how different parenting styles can affect the stress levels of young children. x
  • 7
    Stress, Growth, and Child Development
    Investigate how chronic stress can disrupt the growth of young children by focusing on stress dwarfism and the connection between stress and low growth hormone levels. Also, learn how mid-20th-century experiments with monkeys proved how important love—and not just nutrients—is in raising less-stressful children. x
  • 8
    Stress and Female Reproduction
    Get an insightful overview of the multifaceted effects of stress on the female reproductive system. Some of the topics you explore are the intricate relationships between stress and fertilization, ovulation, spontaneous miscarriages, high-tech in vitro fertilization, and the strength of the libido. x
  • 9
    Stress and Male Reproduction
    Despite being simpler than its female counterpart, the male reproductive system is just as vulnerable to chronic stress. Here, discover how stress leads not to a major decrease in testosterone so much as an increase in erectile dysfunction (with a focus on two of the most common symptoms: impotency and premature ejaculation). x
  • 10
    Stress and Your Immune System
    Turn now to the relationship between stress and your immune system. After mastering the basics of how this system works, delve into how frequent stressors can result in flare-ups of autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, can increase your vulnerability to infections like the common cold and herpes viruses, and more. x
  • 11
    Stress and Cancer
    Can an increase in stress actually cause cancer? Can it cause a relapse among patients in remission, or speed up the rate of a cancer's progression? Professor Sapolsky offers his insights on these and other controversial questions and myths about the possible links between stress and cancer. x
  • 12
    Stress and Pain
    Stress and pain have an intriguing relationship: Stress can increase your sensitivity and resistance to pain, while pain constitutes its own particular stressor. Explore this fascinating bidirectional relationship, and expand your knowledge of how both balanced and stressed minds and bodies react to all varieties of pain. x
  • 13
    Stress, Learning, and Memory
    Memory—whether implicit or explicit—is an essential part of everyday life. So it's all the more important to understand how it's affected by stress. This lecture explains the science behind how short-term stress enhances memory and learning, while chronic stress may actually work to kill neurons in the hippocampus. x
  • 14
    Stress, Judgment, and Impulse Control
    In addition to affecting the hippocampus, stress can prove harmful to the frontal cortex as well—the seat of behavioral regulation. As in previous lectures, discover what happens to this essential part of the brain when it comes under attack from chronic stress. x
  • 15
    Stress, Sleep, and Lack of Sleep
    Most of us don't get as much sleep as we should. Yet the amount of sleep we get is highly intertwined with how our bodies deal with stress. Investigate why high levels of stress disrupt not only how long we sleep—but the quality of sleep's vital restorative powers as well. x
  • 16
    Stress and Aging
    As you age, your ability to deal with stress decreases. What's more: Lots of stress throughout your lifetime can accelerate aspects of aging. Here, examine a series of intriguing experiments and studies that explain the science behind these two views about the intersection between stress and aging. x
  • 17
    Understanding Psychological Stress
    Why are some stressors more unbearable than others? This lecture introduces you to three powerful psychological factors that work to modulate the stress response: having an outlet, taking advantage of social support, and having predictive information about when and how long a stressor will occur. x
  • 18
    Psychological Modulators of Stress
    Conclude your look at ways to modulate the stress response by looking at two subtler variables: your control over the stressor, and your interpretation of whether the stress is getting better or worse. You also see why, despite being enormously powerful, these variables can work only within certain parameters. x
  • 19
    Stress and the Biology of Depression
    Turn to the realm of mental health with this close look at the ties between stress and major depression—one of the leading causes of disability in the world. Start with an overview of the disorder's symptoms before delving into the particulars of its neurochemistry and neuroanatomy. x
  • 20
    Stress and the Psychology of Depression
    To truly understand clinical depression, you need to grasp its psychological aspects as well. In the second lecture on stress and this prevalent disease, explore the pivotal role stress hormones play in depression. Then, use your newfound knowledge of stress to knit together the psychological and biological models of depression. x
  • 21
    Anxiety, Hostility, Repression, and Reward
    Anxiety disorders, feelings of intense hostility, a decreased capacity for pleasure, and a repressed or addictive persona are just a few of the many distinct effects that chronic stress can have on an individual's personality and behavior. The ways these psychological disorders emerge are the subject of this fascinating lecture. x
  • 22
    Stress, Health, and Low Social Status
    How strong a role does socioeconomic status play in what stressors you're exposed to, as well as your potential for chronic stress? It's a provocative question whose answer Professor Sapolsky reveals in this penetrating look at the characteristics and effects of psychosocial stress on both primates and humans. x
  • 23
    Stress Management—Clues to Success?
    Before learning tips to manage chronic stress, it's essential to understand why certain individuals cope better with stress—both physically and mentally—than others. Discover that the key lies in grasping predictors of successful aging, including a position of respect, a resilient personality, a healthy lifestyle, and a realistic approach to life's challenges. x
  • 24
    Stress Management—Approaches and Cautions
    Exercise. Meditation. Social support. Religious beliefs. In this concluding lecture, learn how these and other outlets can potentially help you manage life's everyday stressors—both biologically and psychologically. Regardless of how many stressors you deal with daily, all of us, according to Professor Sapolsky, have the potential to keep them in perspective. x

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  • 108-page printed course guidebook
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Your professor

Robert Sapolsky

About Your Professor

Robert Sapolsky, Ph.D.
Stanford University
Dr. Robert Sapolsky is John A. and Cynthia Fry Gunn Professor of Biological Sciences at Stanford University and Professor of Neurology and Neurosurgery in Stanford's School of Medicine. Professor Sapolsky earned his A.B. summa cum laude in Biological Anthropology from Harvard University and his Ph.D. in Neuroendocrinology from The Rockefeller University in New York. He is also a research associate at the Institute of...
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Reviews

Stress and Your Body is rated 4.7 out of 5 by 107.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Speaker - Wellness/Fitness/Motivation Professor Sapolsky does an excellent job of taking complicated physiology, breaking it down to less complicated parts, then blending them back together, producing many an "AH HA" moment ! I am very pleased with this course and have already recommended it to many cohorts in the wellness field. Thank you for bringing him to the screen!
Date published: 2018-08-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Not for the Faint of Heart, or, Maybe it is I got this series because I am dealing with some heavy duty stress in my personal life at the moment. The lecturer covers what the effects of this are on the body and how it can ruin your health if ignored. He goes into detail about the chemistry and biology of stress to an extreme level, but if he didn't do that he would just be spouting his opinions, not backing it up with science. His final two lectures bring this home to the listener, telling what practical things might work to deal with extreme stress. I would recommend this series to anyone dealing with extreme stress who is worried that it might be affecting their health.
Date published: 2018-06-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Love Sapolsky! I like this lecture , his stress lecture is incredible and love it. This lecture reviews various scientific facts and points about the lecture topic and how one can relate it out our human ways of approaching life. His comfortable and laid back style of teaching with organized nuggets of knowledge is what I love about this man! I buy any course he produces. Big fan!
Date published: 2018-06-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very educational & he makes it easy to follow I found it so interesting to learn how much our bodies react to stress on every level, something everyone would benefit from. Except not everyone would be interested in the heavy scientific details of just how much...we can try to alter the effects if we reflected more on our own self destructive habits. I found Sapolsky to be extremely engaging, laid back, incredibly intelligent and caring about how how well he delivered and made clear the fine details of this lecture. There was much to learn & with the benefit of pressing pause, replay or rewind I accumulated great notes and had plenty of new knowledge to dig into after watching the video.
Date published: 2018-06-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from What a great course! The professor really knows his stuff and is a joy to listen to. There's plenty of science, but it's presented in such a way that it goes down easy. Loved his sense of humor!
Date published: 2018-05-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great insight I bought stress and your bidy after reading Why zebras don’t get ulcers. Why hadn’t I seenm this before?? It’s clear yet in-depth, captivating and extremely educational. Would highly recommend this course...
Date published: 2018-05-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Eye Opening!! This course was very well organized and extremely well taught. Not only was there coverage of the subject matter excellent, many of the "why" and "how" issues were covered to bring the concepts together.
Date published: 2018-03-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Do Yourself a Favour! Do yourself a favour and watch this course more than once. It will bring you understanding and education on things that are crucial to your well-being. This is for sure an excellent investment in yourself. And regarding the teacher, well, one could possibly not ask for a better one.
Date published: 2018-03-02
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