Our slithering counterparts might not be the first place we turn to for stress advice. In fact, they’ll usually elicit the opposite reaction, turning even the most grizzled adventurer into a panicked mess. “Snakes, why did it have to be snakes?” is a now-infamous line uttered by everyone’s favourite silver-screen explorer Indiana Jones. (By the way, you can catch him in the long-awaited blockbuster and continuation of his beloved series of movies in his new flick Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny.)
While a healthy fear of these serpentine creatures will keep you safe, there are a few things you can learn from snakes. Namely, they’ve adapted well to handling stress with a seriously helpful coping mechanism.
The Snakes and Ladders of Stress
A new study published in the journal Frontiers in Ethology looked into how Southern Pacific rattlesnakes dealt with stressful situations. Namely, they investigated whether their response to these distressing stimuli would be muted in the presence of a companion.
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The result? With a scaly friend in tow, they experienced a lower heart rate than when they went through the same sitch alone. This phenomenon is known as “social buffering” and has been long documented throughout the animal kingdom. Essentially, the “buffer” of having a friend by your side can curb the cortisol response to stress. It’s not only evident in birds, rodents, and primates, but also—most importantly—in humans.
So, you might ask, what does it mean for you? Well, when confronted with a stressful situation it might be wise to tag in a mate. That could mean sitting down for drinks or dragging them along for the ride whether it’s a doctor’s appointment you’ve been dreading or that open mic night where you’ve always maintained you’d steal the stage.
Teamwork Makes the Dream Work
As social creatures, it’s not just our stress levels that can benefit from some bonding time. Studies have shown that working out with someone else—or as part of a class—can actually give you an instant boost of motivation, help you power through pain and give you those energy reserves you need to nail just one… more… rep.
A study published in the journal Nature Communications confirmed these findings, revealing that having a friend in close proximity can have a massive impact on your workouts. Authors looked at the exercise patterns of over a million runners concluding that exercise is “socially contagious”. (And not in that COVID-19, stand-two-metres-apart kind of way.)
Bottom line: whether it comes down to dealing with stress or working up a sweat, it’s time to take cues from the snakes.