Why Zebras Don’t Worry And You Do: A Complete Guide To Dealing With Worry & Anxiety


Why zebras don't worry There is a classic book on worry and anxiety by Rober Sapolsky titled “Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers.” While it is a few years old I think the principles in this book are timeless. With anxiety and worry at an all time high in our society it is important that we understand the implications on our health and well-being.

In this post you’ll learn:

  1. Why Zebras don’t worry
  2. The long-term effects worry can have on your health
  3. Steps you can take to fight it
  4. Web & book resources to help

Why Zebras Don’t Worry

The prefrontal cortex is the part of your brain that makes long term plans. Zebras don’t have much of it, nor do they have much use for it.

A zebra’s life is simple. It mainly consists of grazing.

It doesn’t do much planning for the future.

If it doesn’t have food it doesn’t worry that it will starve; it just keeps looking for food.

If it feels a slight pain in its tooth it doesn’t have to worry that the pain will get worse and worse and require a root canal that it will be unable to pay for.

It doesn’t have a mortgage; it is already homeless and perfectly content.

It doesn’t worry about earning the respect of its co-workers, friends, children … In fact zebra’s don’t worry much about anything.

Their brains are not designed to worry the same as ours.

And yet with a pride of lions constantly on the prowl, each mouthful of grass might be its last. But somehow zebras don’t think much about lions.

Put Yourself In a Zebras Shoes

Put yourself in the zebra’s shoes (or hooves) for a minute. Imagine that every time you went to the local Whole Foods you had to keep a lookout for a stealthy and ferocious predator, silently preparing to shred you to pieces. And guess what? He’s at Starbucks too! And maybe even waiting for you in the handicapped stall at the food court! Do you think you would be a happy person?

Worry Interferes With Your Ability To Be Happy.

Worry Quote

Worry is different from fear. Fear is a response to specific present threat. Worry is more abstract. It is concern for events that might happen in the future, which may be unpredictable and which you may lack control over. Worry is quite difficult to accomplish when, like a zebra, you lack much of the neural architecture to project yourself into the future.

A Stress Response That Is Always On

Unfortunately, worrying activates the body’s stress response in much the same way as fear. This is problematic because the stress system evolved to deal with occasional threats, particularly the kind you have to physically run away from. These days most people have little physical threat to actually fear, but we spend a lot of time worrying. This results in a stress response that is always on, and that eventually leads to health problems.

seperator-long Can Excessive Worry Make Me Physically Ill?

According to WebMD…Yes!

Chronic worry and emotional stress can trigger a host of health problems. The problem occurs when fight or flight is triggered daily by excessive worrying and anxiety. The fight or flight response causes the body’s sympathetic nervous system to release stress hormones such as cortisol. These hormones can boost blood sugar levels and triglycerides (blood fats) that can be used by the body for fuel. The hormones also cause physical reactions such as:

  • difficulty swallowing
  • dizziness
  • dry mouth
  • fast heartbeat
  • fatigue
  • headaches
  • inability to concentrate
  • irritability
  • muscle aches
  • muscle tension
  • nausea
  • nervous energy
  • rapid breathing
  • shortness of breath
  • sweating
  • trembling and twitching

When the excessive fuel in the blood isn’t used for physical activities, the chronic anxiety and outpouring of stress hormones can have serious physical consequences.

Consequences Of Constant Worry And Anxiety

  • suppression of the immune system
  • digestive disorders
  • muscle tension
  • short-term memory loss
  • premature coronary artery disease
  • heart attack


Steps You Can Take To Fight Worry

Although excessive worrying and high anxiety can cause an imbalance in your body, there are many options you have that can re-establish harmony of mind, body, and spirit. Here are some helpful tips from the blog Pick Your Brain


1. Prepare for the worst – Hope for the best. This comes right from the advice of Dale Carnegie in “How to Stop Worrying and Start Living”. Accept the worst possible outcome and then take action to improve upon the worst.

2. Get Busy. When you find yourself beginning to worry – get busy on your to-do list. If you don’t have a list – then write one. List your goals and the action steps required to meet them. One of the benefits of your to-do list is you will stop worrying about forgetting something important.

3. Distract Yourself. Call a friend. Read a good book. Watch a funny movie. Take the kids to the park. Take a walk. There’s dozens of things you can do.

4. Get Support. Friends and family can be an excellent source of support. Especially if they will tell you how they see things. Sometimes just talking things out, helps the worry go away.

5. Make a Decision. If you’re worrying about an unresolved personal or business issue – then it’s time to make a decision. Once you decide what to do, you can begin taking steps for the best possible outcome.

6. Confront the Problem Head-On. It’s usually not the problem itself that is causing your worry. It’s usually the anticipation of the problem. How will others be affected or react? Deal with the problem as soon as possible.

7. Practice Relaxing. It is important that you take time to totally relax. Close your eyes take long deep breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth. With each breath tell yourself to relax. It just takes a couple of minutes of this exercise for the tension to leave your body.

8. Listen to CDs. This can be your favorite music, brainwave CDs or behavior modification tapes that are designed to dissolve worry and anxiety. (These do not have to be self-hypnotizing or subliminal – but of course you can choose these types of tapes.)

9. Journal. After writing down everything they are worried about in a journal, most people feel a sense of relief. In writing you may have discovered what you are really afraid of, and then you can objectively work on improving the situation.

10. Take Care of Yourself. Get plenty of rest. Eat a healthy diet and exercise. When you nurture your body and mind, it’s easier to put things in perspective. It’s easier to cope with the unexpected.

11. Count Your Blessings. You have a lot to be thankful for. Look around you … We live in a beautiful world. You can be thankful for your health, your family, your mind, your country, your house, your job, your TV or even your microwave!

12. Monitor Your Thoughts. Be aware of your thoughts and be ready to replace worries with positive thoughts. Be prepared with a positive thought or quote, such as “Calmness is the cradle of power” (Josiah Gilbert Holland).


Web Resources

5 Great Blogs Worth Reading On The Topic Of Worry & Anxiety

1. Home Life Simplified

This mother of two knows the difficulties of postnatal depression and anxiety from first-hand experience, so it is with compassion and understanding that she blogs about truly making your Home Life Simplified.

2. Panic & Anxiety Blog

If you have been searching for a high-quality, up-to-date site with a varied and modern approach to anxiety management, the Panic & Anxiety Blog is your dream come true.

3. Positively Positive

Dedicated to – you guessed it – the Positively Positive, this blog keeps things inspiring, helpful, and refreshingly empowering. After reading just a few posts you will find yourself determined to succeed at mastering your anxiety and living the life you want.

4. Panic

Panic sufferer and writer extraordinaire, Eric Wilinski has made lemonade from the proverbial lemons. His sleek, modern blog shows the reality of panic disorder, depression, and anxiety. PANIC! paints a picture of this challenge as it truly is: highly prevalent, utterly terrifying, and awfully stubborn

5. Anxiety Slayer

The brainchild of Shann Vander Leek and Ananga Sivyer, Anxiety Slayer inspires readers with real tips, practicable strategies for calming attacks and reducing symptoms, and encouragement. They combine written articles with weekly podcasts, a stress relief manual, and even an iTunes CD with guided relaxation techniques.


Book Resources


WebMD: How Worry Affects The Body

Psychology Today: Worrying, Zebras and the PFC

Pick The Brain: 12 Techniques To Stop Worrying


  • After reading this blog the other day I had to come back and post – I have talked about it with a few different family and friends. They laugh about the Zebra metaphor, but it makes sense to them. One thing I found is that the people over 30 I spoke with all agreed money would work itself out or problems, and the others under 30 were more stressed about money and problems not working out. I am under 30…so I decided to just try and let things go. Fortunately it worked…and for the first time in a long time I was able to sit with my husband on the couch and just ‘be’. I told him I wasn’t thinking about anything and that I tried to remind myself of money problems we are having and my mind just dropped it again. We are so much more happier – I don’t feel in a funk or postnatal in anyway! Mind over matter I guess.

    So, thank you for your post and words of encouragement!!

    • Hi Carmen,

      Thanks for posting your comment! That is very interesting about the differences of those under and. over 30. It is such a wonderful feeling when you can just “be” and live in the moment instead of constantly stressing about things that may or may not happen. It really does start in the mind. Perspective is everything. Personally, I have spent far too much time worrying in the past and it hasn’t done me an ounce of good. I just turned 30 this year so maybe I’m starting to make the switch 😉

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