Inside IBH: Be The Zebra

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Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Ryan Morgan, PsyD., Senior Clinical Care Manager from IBH, will visit Lehigh on May 16 from 9:00 to 10:30 a.m. to offer a seminar on stress management: Dealing With Stress: Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers. 

You can register here.

Spotlight recently checked in with Ryan to learn more about the seminar and find out what we humans can learn from our striped four-legged friends.

I started by asking Ryan about the title of his talk. “I was inspired to create this presentation after reading a book by the same name by Dr. Robert Sapolsky, a biology and neurology professor,” he explained. “The book is based on his research. Among the things Dr. Sapolsky looked at was how animals – including zebras – react to stress.”

The seminar starts with an overview, looking at the difference between external and internal stressors. Ryan says that the key difference between animals and humans is our ability to turn off stress internally once an external threat has passed. 

“Imagine a zebra on the savannah,” he said. “A lion pops up out of nowhere and the zebra experiences a similar stress to ours. The zebra gets a burst of energy and flees. The difference is that after it escapes, when the lion is gone, the zebra’s stress is gone, too.”

Not so with humans, however. “We can lose our ability to turn off the stress response,” Ryan said.“That can be really dangerous. It can lead to physical, behavioral and mental illness.”

The good news is that we can learn how turn it off and to better cope with what is going on. 

“One of the things I love about my work, both in my practice and through presentations like this, is that I can offer lots of tips and concrete steps people can take,” Ryan noted. “Some are well known, such as diet and sleep advice, but there are a lot of things people don’t consider.”

Ryan will walk seminar attendees through a variety of exercises – from breathing and stretching to thought challenging. “Of course, the key is to practice these exercises. If you want to be an Olympic weightlifter, you have to go to the gym. If you want to manage your stress levels, you have to be consciously working on it.”

I’d never heard the term “thought challenging,” so I asked him to tell me more. “Thought challenging is confronting your perception,” Ryan explained.  “At times we have stressful or negative thoughts that just pop into our head. I’ll give you ways to stop and consider – why am I thinking this, is this real?”

Ryan said he’ll offer specific tips on building physical and emotional reserves. I wondered if he uses these tools himself. “Are you the zebra?” I asked.

“Right now I am the zebra, because I just got back from vacation and I’m very relaxed,” he laughed. “But in all seriousness, I have done a lot of work in this area over the years and have absorbed a lot, but I still have to be aware and think about it.”

To register for this seminar, go to the HR Registration Tool.