How to Survive Being Alive, a Classic Guide to Coping with Stress

how_surviveHow to Survive Being Alive (5×8 Trade Paperback ISBN: 978-1-60381-160-6, $13.95, 212 pp.), by Elton Welke and Donald L. Dudley, M.D., a groundbreaking guide to coping with stress, permanently changed the dialog between doctor and patient. After its first release in 1977, many more doctors began to consider their patients’ physical and mental states, rather than simply treating symptoms. This edition includes new material and an introduction by George Ojemann, M.D.

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“Lucid Wisdom for learning how to achieve and enjoy a healthy life.” —Ray H. Rosenman, M.D., author of Type A Behavior and Your Heart

“Having devoted all my life to this complex topic, I realize how difficult it is to select what really is of practical use in daily life in a light and amusing style …. Despite the many books that attempted to do the same (including my own), I am convinced that this volume is among the best.” (1977) —Hans Selye, M.D, Ph.D., D.Sc., author of Stress Without Distress

In 1977, the theory that stress, positive as well as negative, could lead to accidents or illnesses was far outside the mainstream. How could a pleasurable and exciting event such as a promotion, a marriage, a financial windfall, a vacation, or even Christmas be a bad thing? In their book, How to Survive Being Alive, authors Elton Welke and the late Dr. Donald L. Dudley put in plain language what many doctors had always suspected—that the body responds to life’s highs and lows by lowering its defenses. Dudley and Welke’s introduction of life-change scales to laymen clearly identified the possible consequences of experiencing too many changes all at once or making drastic revisions in life-style. They included the Social Readjustment Rating Scale, first created by psycho-physiologists Thomas H. Holmes and Richard H. Rahe, which provided a practical means of measuring the stress-related consequences that certain events and milestones can precipitate.

Says co-author Elton Welke, “Although we anticipated skepticism, many doctors and nurses told us that they were relieved to see what they had observed personally finally corroborated in print.”

Donald L. Dudley, MD served on the University of Washington medical school’s faculty for 32 years as Clinical Professor of Neurological Surgery. He was also Chief of Behavioral Medicine at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle and President and Medical Director of the Washington Institute of Neurosciences. Dr. Dudley authored more than 100 books, monographs, and professional papers. He died in 2000.

Elton Welke has served as both Senior and Executive editor for Sunset Magazine, Travel Editor of Better Homes and Gardens, and Managing Editor of Apartment Life Magazine. He has contributed to and edited many magazines and newspapers and authored and edited books for publishers nationwide. From 1990 to 1998 he was Publisher of Microsoft Press.

Keep Reading for an excerpt:

When a saber-toothed tiger was stalking, retreat was appropriate behavior. When ambushed by another tribe, attack was often the only appropriate response. But in other circumstances—a cold, stormy night for example, or perhaps a situation in which the woods were overrun with enemies unaware of your hiding place—a sort of biological shutdown was the appropriate behavior. Primitive man often had to cope with cold. His body’s response was to constrict peripheral blood vessels and capillaries to conserve heat. His basal metabolism slowed down and his body went into a quasi-somnolent state. In these kinds of circumstances our great-great ancestor sort of hibernated. This was a stress response, just as adaptive to survival as dashing away from danger or bashing an attacker’s head in with a club. Withdrawal was the behavior appropriate to surviving a stormy night. Indeed, after his amazing run from the Blackfoot Indians, John Colter had to survive that night hidden in a driftwood pile, naked, with bone-chilling water gurgling by just inches below him. Hidden in a log pile, with enemies all around, reduced breathing, minimal heartbeat, inactivity, and just enough heat production to keep from dying of hypothermia was the best course for ancient ancestor and for John Colter.

To be sure, a withdrawal response to either a saber-tooth tiger or an attacking Neanderthal would have proven disastrous one million years ago, just as running about naked in freezing weather would have been lethal. Thus we evolved, with a mix of psychological and physiological stress reactions designed to help us survive different kinds of threats.

Unfortunately we’ve only been “modern men” for a few brief years in contrast to our species’ tenure on this globe, and we’ve been industrialized, cultured, and “civilized” men for but a flyspeck in time compared to our natural history.

John Colter’s stress responses were appropriate to escaping Indians, yet a similar chain of responses when meeting with the vice-president in charge of finance is not in your best interest. There you are, in your business suit, necktie, polished shoes … with a pounding pulse, shortness of breath, increased blood pressure, and muscles twitching and itching for accelerated physical activity. For all that, you are expected to appear rational, calm, in charge of yourself.

“I believe I can explain this, Mr. Blackfoot. You see we’ve been anticipating a jump in costs during the year ahead, so we wanted to prepare this year ….”

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