Monkeys as managers; the affects of Toxic Stress.

Stress can play a big & toxic role in our lives, our health, and who we become. How we deal with stress also affects our children, including their IQ.

Here is a real example, taken from a book “Brain Rules For Babe: How to Raise A Smart and Happy Child from Zero to Five.”

“It was not a good idea to be in Quebec and pregnant around January 4, 1998. For more than 80 hours, freezing rain and drizzle fell relentlessly across eastern Canada—immediately followed by a steep drop in surface temperature. This meteorological one-two punch turned eastern Canada into ice hell. Under the weight of the freeze, more than a thousand towering metal power-line structures toppled like dominoes. Tunnels collapsed. Thirty people died. A state of emergency soon was declared; the army was called up. Even so, thousands of residents were without power for weeks, in freezing temperatures. If you were pregnant and could not get to a hospital for your regular checkups—God forbid if you went into labor—you were stressed out of your mind. And so, it turned out, was your infant. The effects of that storm could be seen on the children’s brains years later. How do we know that? A group of researchers decided to study the effects of this natural disaster on babies in the womb—then follow the children as they grew older and entered the Canadian education system. The result was scary. By the time these “ice storm” children were 5, their behaviors differed markedly from children whose mothers hadn’t experienced the storm. Their verbal IQs and language development appeared stunted, even when the parent’s education, occupation, and income were taken into account. Was the mother’s stress the culprit? The answer turned out to be yes.”

In studying stress, research shows that not all types of stress has a negative affect on people; moderate stress in small amounts, the type most women feel in a typical pregnancy, actually appears to even have a good impact on the infant.

But, researchers have isolated the types of stresses that are TOXIC, and their common characteristic: that you feel out of control over the bad stuff coming at you. As stress moves from moderate to severe, and from acute to chronic, this loss of control turns catastrophic, and begins to affect the baby.

Did you get that? The common theme for TOXIC stress is that you feel out of control over the bad stuff coming at you. This is a good point to stop here, and remind myself and you who really is in control: God. He is Sovereign, Almighty, All-Powerful, All-Knowing, & Omni-Present. No fear, circumstance or news should cause us to have stress at the TOXIC level, for we must always keep in mind that God is on the throne and in control. He is aware and actively involved in every detail of our lives; “God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” (1 Corinthians 10:13).

Here is another example: Responsibility for others is one of the chief causes of tension in executives. To prove this idea, an experiment was conducted some time ago with two monkeys. Scientists devised a method of giving one of the monkeys “executive” training under carefully controlled laboratory conditions.

The monkey chosen for executive training was strapped in a chair with his feet on a plate capable of giving him a minor electric shock. Then they put a light over the desk and turned the light on 20 seconds before each shock. A lever was placed by the monkey’s chair. If he pulled the lever after the light came on, the light would go out and there would be no shock. The executive monkey learned to avoid the shock very quickly.

The scientists then placed another monkey across the room with the same setup, except that the second monkey’s lever didn’t work. However, the monkeys soon learned that the first monkey’s lever would work for both, turning off the second monkey’s light and protecting him from shock as well. This made the first monkey an executive, since he was now responsible for preventing shock for the second one.

The first monkey was intelligent. He quickly took over, protecting both himself and his colleague from shock, responding to both lights or either light without difficulty.

There was no outward change in either monkey as the experiment continued, but after awhile the executive monkey, responding to the stress of responsibility for another, developed stomach ulcers. The second monkey’s health remained unchanged.

The point: ultimately, it is not us holding the “control” or lever. If we feel like it is us holding the lever, we will carry toxic stress around, which will affect us, and the people around us.

Next time you are tempted to allow circumstances and fears to toxically stress you out and make you believe that things are way out of control, I urge you to quote Psalm 23:

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.

He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters. 

He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil,
for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord

Psalm 91 is also a great chapter to read, as you face stress:

Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High

will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.

I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress,

my God, in whom I trust.”

Surely he will save you

from the fowler’s snare

and from the deadly pestilence.

He will cover you with his feathers,

and under his wings you will find refuge;

his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.

You will not fear the terror of night,

nor the arrow that flies by day,

nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness,

nor the plague that destroys at midday.

A thousand may fall at your side,

ten thousand at your right hand,

but it will not come near you.

You will only observe with your eyes

and see the punishment of the wicked.

If you say, “The Lord is my refuge,”

and you make the Most High your dwelling,

no harm will overtake you,

no disaster will come near your tent.

For he will command his angels concerning you

to guard you in all your ways;

they will lift you up in their hands,

so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.

You will tread on the lion and the cobra;

you will trample the great lion and the serpent.

 “Because he loves me,” says the Lord, “I will rescue him;

I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name.

He will call on me, and I will answer him;

I will be with him in trouble,

I will deliver him and honor him.

With long life I will satisfy him 

and show him my salvation.”

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