Lets talk about Stress.
Stress is generally not a super thing to experience, and we’re going to give you a rundown on just a few of the ways this mind-blowingly complex phenomenon affects you. It affects the brain and body in multiple ways, influencing multiple systems and levels of functioning. It’s a response to perceived threats or challenges, and it is a normal part of life. However, when stress becomes chronic, it can have detrimental effects on both physical and mental health.
From an immunological perspective, stress can affect the immune system function, as it suppresses the immune response. This can increase the risk of infections and chronic inflammation. Chronic stress can also lead to an overproduction of pro-inflammatory cytokines, which can contribute to the development of chronic diseases such as atherosclerosis and diabetes
From a gastroenterological perspective, stress can affect the digestive system, causing symptoms such as abdominal pain, diarrhea, and constipation. Stress can also lead to an overproduction of stomach acid, which can contribute to the development of gastric ulcers. Stress can also affect the gut-brain axis, leading to changes in gut motility and permeability, which can contribute to gut-related disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome and inflammatory bowel disease.
From a neuroscientific perspective, stress activates the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, which triggers the release of stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline. These hormones can affect brain functions such as memory, mood, and decision-making. Chronic stress can lead to structural changes in the brain, particularly in the hippocampus, which is involved in memory and spatial navigation. This can lead to memory impairment and cognitive dysfunction. Stress can also affect the prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for executive functions such as attention, planning, and decision-making. This can lead to difficulties in concentration and decision-making.
From an anthropological perspective, stress can be seen as a response to environmental and societal changes, such as migration and cultural adaptation. Cultural and societal changes can lead to a mismatch between an individual’s environment and their biology, leading to an increased risk of stress-related disorders.
From a cognitive perspective, stress can affect our ability to process and interpret information, leading to difficulties in attention, memory, and decision-making. Studies have shown that stress can lead to changes in the brain regions involved in attention, such as the prefrontal cortex, making it harder to focus on a task. Stress can also affect memory by altering the function of the hippocampus, which is responsible for the formation of new memories. Stress can also lead to changes in decision-making by altering the function of the ventral striatum, which is involved in reward processing and motivation.
From a psychological perspective, stress can cause emotional and behavioral changes such as anxiety, depression, and aggression. Stress can also affect sleep quality, leading to insomnia or nightmares. Stress can also lead to changes in appetite, leading to weight gain or loss.
From a sociological perspective, stress can be caused by social factors such as poverty, discrimination, and lack of social support. Stress can also result from the demands of work, family and social roles. Social stressors such as poverty and discrimination can have a direct effect on mental and physical health, leading to an increased risk of depression, anxiety, and chronic diseases.
From a social perspective, stress can affect our relationships with others. Studies have shown that stress can lead to social withdrawal and isolation, making it harder to connect with others. Stress can also affect the quality of our relationships by leading to conflicts and misunderstandings. Stress can also affect our ability to empathize with others, making it harder to understand and respond to their needs.
To further elaborate on how stress affects the individual’s relationships, we must turn to Mentalization and how it’s impacted by stress. Mentalization refers to the ability to understand and interpret the mental states of oneself and others. Mentalization is an important aspect of social cognition and emotional regulation, and it plays a crucial role in the development and maintenance of relationships.
Research has shown that stress can lead to changes in the brain regions involved in mentalization, such as the medial prefrontal cortex and the temporoparietal junction. These changes can affect the ability to mentalize, leading to difficulties in understanding and interpreting the mental (and consequently emotional) states of oneself and others.
Additionally, stress can affect mentalization by altering the functioning of the mirror neuron system, a neural network that is involved in the ability to understand and interpret the actions and intentions of others. Stress can also affect the functioning of the default mode network, which is involved in self-referential processing and perspective-taking.
From a therapeutic point of view, stress can affect mentalization in the context of therapy, by making it harder for individuals to engage in mentalizing processes and to understand and interpret their own and others’ mental states. This can make it harder for individuals to benefit from therapy and to make progress in their treatment. This is why we focus on stress management as a key piece before going deeper down the rabbit hole.
As therapists stress is something we’re all trained to help with. One common launchpad regarding stress it to explore your relationship with the stressors. Making meaning of stressors is a complex process that involves understanding the causes and consequences of stress and how it relates to our personal and social context. The process of making meaning of stressors can be influenced by a variety of factors such as an individual’s past experiences, coping mechanisms, and social support system.
One way to make meaning of stressors is through a CBT technique called cognitive reappraisal, which is the process of reframing the meaning of a stressor to make it less distressing. This can involve identifying the positive aspects of a stressor or finding ways to make the stressor more manageable.
We often start with a Cognitive approach, and then if you’re up for it, we can dig deeper into how and why you’re experiencing stress the specific way you are.
In conclusion, stress can affect our perception of reality by affecting our cognitive processes, relationships, and different biological systems in the individual. Stress can lead to changes in brain regions involved in attention, memory, and decision-making, making it harder to process and interpret information. Stress can also affect our ability to connect with others, leading to social withdrawal and isolation. Stress can also affect our physical health by increasing the risk of chronic diseases and altering the function of different systems in the body. It’s important to recognize the signs of chronic stress and to take steps to manage it, such as engaging in self-care practices, seeking professional help, and addressing social stressors.
And now for something completely different, here’s some levity about stress
For further reading there are several peer-reviewed journals that explore the role of stress in various fields such as psychology, neuroscience, biology, medicine, and sociology. Here are a few examples:
“Psychoneuroendocrinology” – This is a journal that publishes research on the relationship between the nervous, endocrine, and immune systems, and how it relates to stress and health. It covers a wide range of topics and some of the cool findings that have been published in the journal include:
“Biological Psychiatry” – This journal focuses on the biological basis of mental disorders, including the role of stress in the development and maintenance of mental disorders.
“Journal of Applied Psychology” – This journal focuses on the application of psychological principles to various fields such as health, education, and the workplace, including the role of stress in these settings.
“Stress and Health” – This journal focuses on the relationship between stress and physical and mental health, including the biological, psychological, and social factors that contribute to the stress response.
“Social Science & Medicine” – This journal focuses on the social and cultural determinants of health and illness, including the role of stress in the development and maintenance of chronic diseases.
“Psychosomatic Medicine” – This journal focuses on the relationship between psychological factors and physical health, including the role of stress in the development and maintenance of physical health disorders.
“Annals of Behavioral Medicine” – This journal focuses on the relationship between behavior and health, including the role of stress in the development and maintenance of physical and mental health disorders.