However, within the last couple of decades, the wisdom of our ancestors has returned with a vengeance. According to the National Institutes of Health, as well as research institutions around the world, stress is now known to make us much more vulnerable to just about everything from coronary heart disease to cancer.
According to studies sponsored by the NIH, those same hormones that convinced the rats to beat up their drugged cellmates can also turn off the immune systems, apparently to conserve energy while recovering from an illness, thus leaving us more vulnerable to bacteria or viruses.
Getting sick, of course, also elevates the stress level, so that cycle of mutual reinforcement comes back into play again. Get stressed, get sick, stress soars, get sicker.
These findings suggest that one of the best ways we can help ourselves is to learn how to manage our stress. That's not always easy. The NIH recommends several steps. Figure out where the problems lie, in the family, on the job, or how about that commute between the two? Once the problem is known, deal with it, or seek help.
But like so many psychological problems, just simply knowing about it, and concentrating on solutions, is stressful. The NIH says if you've got a lousy job, maybe you ought to change jobs. Yeah, sure. No stress there, right?
Professional counseling might be a help, but one interesting study found that people may be better equipped to solve their own problems than to rely on someone else. A couple of years ago, researchers were trying to figure out how to help cancer patients deal with stress while undergoing chemotherapy.
They brought in some patients who had been trained by professionals, and some who had been given some literature and told to train themselves.
Surprisingly, those who had taught themselves did better than those who had been tutored by professionals.
Another indication that some of the best medications come from within ourselves.
Lee Dye's column appears weekly on ABCNEWS.com. A former science writer for the "Los Angeles Times," he now lives in Juneau, Alaska.