by Roberta Lee
Random House, 2010
Review by Roy Sugarman, Ph.D. on Dec 21st 2010
As we developed through evolution, our giant cortex brains gave us the capacity to alter the way natural selection worked on us, and how we worked on the environment. Lee argues that anxiety and stress are the new status quo, since we have altered our environment and the way we engage with it to the point that our new adaptation to the world includes all the ills and evils of a modern world and an ancient body. For instance, we now sit rather than move, and cook less but eat more, providing ourselves with substances which are consumable on the run, in a hurry, but are hardly fuel. Stressed out is this the new normal, with adaptations that include dementia, mental illness, arthritis, metabolic syndromes, cardiovascular disease and so on. Now we need a superstress solution.
Superstress is thus in your body, and on your mind, as Lee attempts to provide an integrated solution. Fear is a stressor, fear of the unknown is anxiety, and this piles up on itself as we are continually challenged by novelty, hence the term Superstress to define the load on both body and brain. The hallmarks as she puts it include the compounding of stressors, the inability to get control of it, life losing its lustre, and anxiety thus becomes the default state we are in. Changes in family and friends, the value of community, the emphasis on social status, day to day matters, parenting and ‘childing’, job stress, all influence the tipping points. Various endocrine systems play a part here, with various outcomes for body and brain, as well as nutritional havoc and damage to the immune system.
Since one needs to measure it to manage it, Lee sets us up with a stress inventory battery, four in all, abbreviated versions of which are online. Six chapters then follow which outline the interventions against which you will measure your baseline shift. Pathways to peace covers the usual interventions, including meditation, breathing, affirmations, playtime for adults, muscle relaxation, Tai Chi, multisensory visualization, and interventions where other partners are needed, e.g., massage and reflexology/ayurvedic food massage.
Foods that Heal covers the obvious, and gratifyingly, she quickly moves to a Mediterranean Diet. Super foods include the ubiquitous dark chocolate, coconut, oil, cinnamon, turmeric, green tea, ginger, other foods which for instance target mood rather than health, such as oatmeal, walnuts, tea, salmon, lentils.
Rest and motion is next, looking at sleep, and exercise, and five, fifteen minute workouts are proposed, in an around the home, the neighbourhood, the office; stretching is a big one, with lots of recommendations, and a full body workout is also outlined, which would not always need a gym.
Mind over Superstress: here the benefits of optimism are pointed out, and the power of positivity, all based on building resilience to stress, with the art of coping finishing off.
Socialization is of course a powerful force, and the power of Connection to Society is stressed here. The recent literature on loneliness and the importance of older theories, such as touch, are key here.
The Life of the Spirit is next, with meaning, values, altruism, forgiveness, prayer, kindness etc all drawing on the psychology of positivity.
Part three now begins to develop the personalized side to the Superstress Solution. The first one of these is the four week program, the first, building calm, the second detoxifying, three is to restore and rebuild, and four, nurture community and the spirit. The use of a journal is put forward as a kind of dashboard or goal tracker, affirmations and lifestyle habits are built in, and these include food choices, supplements (not many experts would agree on these!) but she chooses well, in my opinion, physical activity, and so on, with a change contract up front. Kindness meditation practice is here too, and the details are very finely worked out week by week for you.
However, personalization is key, as motivational experts have pointed out, so Lee allows for a superstress solution for a certain type of person. Firstly is the burned out, exhausted, numb and depressed type (Who me?). Diet, supplements, exercise and strategies are advanced in rapid sound-bite type lists. Type two’s are the agitated, overwhelmed by life, (Me again?) are profiled, with the same headings of intervention, but different content. Type three are the emotionally sensitive ones, (me again..., I am not sure these are mutually exclusive) and again, the substance is different. The driven, controlling type is next, (I have these symptoms too) with interventions accordingly. The Type five is the explosive type, and although there is different content again, the supplements and general prescription seem to be too similar to differentiate, and I am not convinced these are separate entities.
She also provides a lot of symptom solutions, eg, for anxiety, depression, chronic fatigue, IBS, immune system support, insomnia, libido, memory support, PMS, are dealt with.
She closes off briefly, with ideas on living serenely. A good addition are menus, two weeks worth, for the main meals of the day and snacks.
As an overview, the book uses all the commonsense and mainstream stuff one would or could expect, as well as some stuff we wouldn’t know, such as the herbs, additives, etc. Strictly layman level though, and helpful, and a great lifestyle guide for anyone to do.
The problem is, people will not do these things, unless they are desperate or coming apart, and then this kind of intervention doesn’t work. Lee needs to add a substantial motivational or self-determination section to this book right up front, because such people as she targets, as desperately in need as they are, just fail to engage and adopt such wisdom. As the song goes, ironically, this is good advice that people just don’t take: one has to evoke a response in those whose sense of self-efficacy and volition is just shot. A book of its times, it will lack the personal presence of Dr Lee to motivate the reader, inspire them, evoke their resolve to change, but if they do take it on board, this little book is a great, easy to read an pithy guide on what to do to make a difference.
© 2010 Roy Sugarman
Roy Sugarman, PhD, Director of Applied Neuroscience, Athletes' Performance