Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Un-rutting Your Inner Rat

Poor rats. They are subjected to all kinds of torture: electric shocks, cohabitation with "bullying" rats, simulated drowning and so on. And for what purpose? So they might most closely resemble ourselves at our most stressed out. Sheesh!

Thanks to our rat friends, scientists in Portugal have studied these "stressed out" rats and found that after four weeks of living under these conditions, the ordinarily clever rats were stuck in a rut: unable to innovate when faced with ordinarily solvable problems. Happily, as this New York Times article points out about the study, the rats showed marked improvement after four weeks of rat "vacation". With even a short break from stress, the rats were able to return to their formerly cunning problem-solving selves.

So what can we take away from this rat study? For one, when we are at our most stressed out, we tend to try the same strategies to solve a problem, and when it doesn't work, we do more of it without success, until we could caught up in an unending loop of amplifying anxiety.

The next time we find ourselves in one of these stress ruts, we would do well to recall those stressed out rats. Instead of trying to solve the "maze" we're in, why not set the maze aside for awhile, put up our feet, read a good book, take a nap, do nothing. Or at the very least, take a break from the "bully rats" in our lives. (I, for one, am going to stop racking my brain trying to figure out how scientists developed "bully rats" to begin with!)

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