Meetings & Your Brain

Don’t Monkey Around With Stress

Neurobiologist Robert Sapolsky spent a dozen years in Kenya studying the relationships within a troop of baboons and learned this: We primates really stress each other out.

As a story about Sapolsky’s work in the August issue of Wired relates, chronic stress contributes to a long list of health problems, including suppressed immune function, heart disease, depression, adult-onset diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, and many more.

The article suggest ways that individuals can help combat stress — by getting enough sleep, for instance, meditating, and not getting into arguments. The article is less optimistic, however, about the possibility of zapping the external sources of chronic stress, particularly the stress of feeling out of control of your own experience.

In the meetings world, there’s already a powerful movement afoot toward putting attendees’ emotional and physical needs on the agenda, so that they can fully engage in learning and networking opportunities. Every meeting is in some ways its own universe, and organizers can make decisions along that way that reduce negative kinds of stress, leaving only the positive buzz of connecting with people and ideas.

One cure for stress are meetings themselves, and the relationship-building they make possible: Studies of monkeys show that the more socially isolated they are, the higher their levels of stress hormones and their mortality rate.

Barbara Palmer

Barbara Palmer is senior editor and director of digital content.