top of page

People always want to know about stress and how it affects our lives

Not surprisingly (perhaps because we are the Stress, Psychiatry and Immunology Laboratory — the SPI Lab, and this is, by the way, the reason why InSPIre the Mind has the capital SPI) I often gets asked to discuss this topic at public festivals, dissemination events, or online interviews — being these the Wellcome Trust Hub at the Latitude Festival in 2015, the Wellcome Collection Packed Lunch in 2016, the Also Festival in 2017, the Museum of the Mind in 2019, or an interview with the blogger and podcaster host, Danny Whittaker. And people always have a very good level of knowledge on these topics, and are prepared to resonate emotionally with the research findings and to bring their own personal experiences into the open, through insightful questions. It is always great fun and very rewarding. We seem to forget — certainly people are usually surprised to hear — that the stress response is an automatic survival response, designed to save our lives during life-threatening situations. It’s not helpful if you are having a row in the office, you have missed a deadline, or you have a thousand unopened emails in your inbox. It is very helpful, however, if you encounter a lion. Hundreds of years of evolution have not changed our stress response much.

An Indian lion in the Sasan-Gir National Park in Gujarat. I took this picture.

I am myself, quite stressed during these interviews.

The audience may be lying relaxed on the floor of a big tent in a green space, sitting in a theatre, or listening to my voice in a podcast through their headphones - but I am super nervous, not knowing if I am going to say something boring, or annoying, or upsetting.

So, I usually start by describing my stress response.

My breathing is rapid. My heart is racing. My skin is sweating. My pupils are dilated. The adrenaline and the cortisol are raised in my blood. My immune system is activated.

Of course, none of these changes are helpful during my public performance: it is all about getting oxygen and sugar to my muscles, increase my vision, and protect me from infections, in case I have to fight a predator.

But they would have been helpful if I had to fight for my life or run to safety — if the tent or the theatre had been full of lions.

And this is what people in the audience are always surprised to hear. How it is possible that years of evolution have not really changed our stress response? As far as stress is concerned, are we all still cavemen and cavewomen?

But, this time, I do not want to bore you further with reading.

This time, if you are interested in stress, please listen to these podcasts on this topic.

The first is my interview at the Wellcome Collection Packed Lunch in 2017. Fifty-five minutes literally packed with information on how stress makes us ill.

We know that stress isn’t good for us but how and why exactly does it make us ill? Carmine Pariante is a biological psychiatrist who explores the ways that stress, whether in the womb or in adulthood, can increase our immune system activity and affect our mental and physical health. Speaker: Carmine Pariante, Professor of Biological Psychiatry and Head of section, King’s College London. This packed lunch event was recorded live on Wednesday 6 July 2016 at Wellcome Collection.

I was particularly delighted when the charity, MQ, asked me to inaugurate their podcast series. Here, I talk about a specific aspect of the stress response , the activation of the immune system, and its relevance to depression and mental health. The third one is my more-than-two-hours long interview with podcaster, Danny Whittaker, with a broader remit that includes stress, mental health, social adversity, biological changes in the brain, and also my favourite books to read. (BTW, do check Danny’s website for dozens of other very interesting podcasts on mental health).


In today’s episode Prof. Carmine Pariante joins us to discuss the biology of stress, everything from the anatomy of the brain, to the endocrine system, and how it’s all functions together. We explore the evolutionary advantages of the stress response, how the pressures of modern life can cause stress to become chronic, and how the physiological damage of long-term stress can lead to conditions such as anxiety and depression.

For show notes and to join the conversation visit: Email: Follow Danny on Twitter: Podcast Image: Amy McTigue Theme Music: Ryan Little

Perhaps, after hearing these podcasts, you too will realise that there are no lions in the theatre. We all encounter problems: difficult, emotional, or sometime tragic problems — with bosses, colleagues, partners, friends or relatives. But there are no lions. Unless of course we are truly exposed to violence, war, or terror, to really life-threatening situations. But for most of us, luckily, there are no lions. It is time to recognise this and appraise reality. We can control our stress response. We no longer need to be cavemen.


This blog contains some ideas that I first presented in another blog published in 2015 and available at

header image source Gabriel Matula on Unsplash


bottom of page