Saturday, August 24, 2013

The Body's Response to Stress

The experience of emotions are bodily reactions - intrinsic emergency responses that instigate the fight or flight response (Breedlove, Watson, & Rosenzweig, 2010). It is one component of our biology that helps us adapt to our environment. In many cases, a change in the environment requires an immediate response for the purposes of maintaining safety. The human body has intrinsic mechanisms, such as hormonal and other responses that place the body in an optimum state in which the individual can fight, flight, or respond in another appropriate way. For example, cortisol plays a role in attending to bodily functions so energy is regulated toward the threat at hand (Breedlove et al., 2010).

Two Ways Stress Responses Are Normally Counteracted
Individuals can consciously work toward counteracting the body's stress response by exercising the body and the brain. Exercise increases a buffering effect that takes place in the brain (Stress-defeating effects of exercise traced to emotional brain circuit, 2011). Ameliorating stress can be accomplished through other relaxation techniques used in martial arts, dance, yoga, or pilates. Exercise can create a richness of environment that appears to foster resilience (Lehmann & Herkenham, 2010). In trying to understand the neurological basis to resilience, Lehmann and Herkenham (2011) found the quality of environments of mice were predictive of resiliency in less than optimal social circumstances. When the mice were housed in a rich environment in which they could exercise and explore, they exhibited less anxiety, depression, and social avoidance after experiencing socially unpleasant circumstances. The rich environment produced a greater level of emotional regulation and reward processing (Lehmann & Herkenham, 2011).

The body works toward homeostasis as well. Through the release of hormones and steroids from the adrenal cortex, the body works to suppress some immunological responses. As mentioned above, cortisol regulates bodily functions to conserve energy for the body to use when flight or fight responses are necessary.

Individual Differences in Recovery from Stress

Individuals respond and recover from stress according to their biology and psychological state of well being. Cognitive reappraisal, too, may play a considerable role in emotional regulation, which allows individuals to utilize an ability to assess situations as less threatening and challenging (Troy, Wilhelm, Shallcross, & Mauss, 2010). This helps individuals to experience stress differently, or experience less stress (Troy et al, 2010). Long-term chronic stress can lead to a number of negative consequences. For example, Brown et al. (2010) found when children had chronically stressful childhoods, they were more apt to initiate smoking behavior. Smoking is linked to an increased risk of lung cancer. Additionally, Brown et al. found stress altered the brain areas that respond to stress. The field of psychoneuroimmunology holds a belief that psychological challenges and stressors that affect the nervous system also affect the immune system. Cohen, Tyrell, & Smith (1991) found that stress increased vulnerability to upper respiratory infections and colds. As medicine and psychology move toward individualized service, it becomes more important to understand the way individuals cope, their personality type, and their genetic predisposition. Specialized strategies could lead to personalized stress management giving individuals the ability to surmount psychological stress and its physical/biological negative effects (Buckley, 2011; Zozulya, Gabaeva, Sokolov, Surkina, & Kost, 2008).


Breedlove, S. M., Watson, N. V., & Rosenzweig, M. R. (2010). Biological psychology: An introduction to behavioral, cognitive, and clinical neuroscience. (6th ed.) Sunderland, MA: Sinauer Associates, Inc. Publishers.

Brown, D. W., Anda, R. F., Felitti, V. J., Edwards, V. J., Malarcher, A., Croft, J. B., & Giles, W. H. (2010). Adverse childhood experiences are associated with the risk of lung cancer: A prospective cohort study. BMC Public Health, 10(1), 20. doi: 10.1186/1471-2458-10-20

Buckley, R. (2011). Infectious Disease Genomics: Individual Variability, New Opportunities. MD Conference Express, 4-5.

Cohen. S,. Tyrrell, U. & Smith, A. (1991). Psychological stress and susceptibility to the common cold. New England journal of Medicine,325, 606-612.

Lehmann, M., & Herkenham, M. (2011). Environmental enrichment confers stress resiliency to social defeat through an infralimbic cortex-dependent neuroanatomical pathway. The Journal of Neuroscience, 31(16), 6159–6173. doi: 10.1523/​JNEUROSCI.0577-11.2011

Troy, A. S., Wilhelm, F. H., Shallcross, A. J., & Mauss, I. B. (2010). Seeing the silver lining: Cognitive reappraisal ability moderates the relationship between stress and depressive symptoms. Emotion, 10(6), 783-795. doi:10.1037/a0020262

Stress-Defeating effects of exercise traced to emotional brain circuit. (2011). Bethesda, Maryland, US: US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), National Institutes of Health (NIH), National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH).

Zozulya, A., Gabaeva, M., Sokolov, O., Surkina, I., & Kost, N., (2008). Personality, coping style, and constitutional neuroimmunology. Journal Of Immunotoxicology, 5(2), 221-225.doi:10.1080/15476910802131444

1 comment:

  1. I'm glad to have just stumbled across this blog. I will be entering the MFT program in grad school shortly and I love hearing theories and such put into perspective by others. Great material here.