Psychological, cognitive, physiological and behavioural responses to stress


Psychological, cognitive, physiological and behavioural responses to stress

Stressors have a significant impact on our mood, feeling of well-being, behaviour, and health. Acute stress reactions in young, healthy people may be adaptable and do not usually harm their health. However, if the danger is constant, especially in elderly or sick people, the long-term impacts of stress can be detrimental to health. The kind, frequency, and duration of stressors, the person’s biological sensitivity (i.e., genetics, constitutional variables), psychological resources, and acquired coping strategies all influence the association between psychosocial stresses and disease. Psychosocial therapies effectively treat stress-related illnesses and may alter the development of chronic diseases. The “stressor” is a natural or considered threat to a body, and the “stress response” is the organism’s reaction to the stressor. Even though stress reactions develop as adaptive mechanisms, chronic stress responses might cause tissue damage and illness.

Humans and other animals summon coping strategies based on their assessment of the possible danger (Angst & Vollrath, 1991). Rather than single, standalone reaction alterations, our central nervous system (CNS) prefers to develop integrated behavioural patterns. As a result, when immediate fight-or-flight looks plausible, humans tend to exhibit heightened autonomic and hormonal activity that optimizes the opportunities for muscular effort (Hilton 1975).

Although different conditions evoke diverse patterns of stress responses, individual variances in stress reactions to the same event exist. The propensity to demonstrate a consistent pattern of stress reactions in the face of a range of stressors is known as “response stereotypy”. Across various contexts, some people exhibit stress responses linked with coping style, whereas others exhibit stress responses connected with aversive monitoring. Most stressful confrontations are brief, enduring seconds, minutes, or hours maybe more, and it is now evident that such extreme stress exposure levels stimulate the sympatho-medullary (SAM) system, which disrupts cardiovascular activity, as well as the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, which alters levels of cortisol. Specific brain areas assess the danger and establish an adaptable network of autonomic and endocrine output to enable the physiological and behavioural adaptations required to meet the current homeostatic obstacle (Lacey & Lacey 1958).

The sympathetic nervous system responds to stress by involving the cardiovascular system and the adrenal medulla in a synchronized preparation for fight-or-flight activities. In addition, the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenocortical system increases circulating cortisol, which helps release energy stored and control the stress response in both the peripheral and central neurological systems. When the challenge is removed, the stress reaction resolves. Autonomic and endocrine modulation of stress responses may be changed in people with specific genotypes or who have experienced early-life adversity (Carroll et al., 2017).

As previously stated, people differ significantly in their cardiovascular and cortisol responses to acute psychological stress. Over the years, researchers have found this biological heterogeneity to be fruitful ground. For the most part, research on cardiovascular stress reactions has been led by the reactivity hypothesis, which contends persuasively that persons who frequently exhibit excessive cardiovascular reactions to acute stress are at higher risk of eventual cardiovascular illness. There is now substantial evidence to support this, with population studies demonstrating a link between highly elevated cardiovascular reactions to research lab stress exposure levels and hypertension, atherosclerosis, and increased left ventricular mass. The low or muted cardiovascular response has long been assumed to be innocuous, if not protective. Recent research, however, clearly suggests that this is not the case. Stress reactivity, both cardiovascular and cortisol, has been linked to various adverse behavioural and health effects. (Jamieson, Nock, & Mendes, 2012).

The viewpoint here is based on the crucial role that typical stress responsivity plays in adaptive mechanisms to the environment’s continual demands placed on survival. According to this viewpoint, stress reactions are systems-level responses to homeostasis challenges. As a result, optimum responses to such dangers need adequate system integration at various levels, particularly peripheral physiology, the brainstem and hypothalamus, and the cortex and limbic system. According to this viewpoint, physiological reactions to stress should occur within the typical range for a particular homeostatic risk.

By definition, variations from a normative reaction may indicate inadequate systems integration and, as a result, decreased homeostatic regulation. As previously stated, we believe that extreme stress reactions have detrimental health repercussions. Similarly, attenuated stress responses, on the other hand, may indicate inadequate homeostatic control, with a distinct set of repercussions for well-being. Physiological, behavioural, and cognitive processes may change in such individuals, health habits may be inclined toward maladaptive practices, and survival rates may deteriorate. As a result, optimum responses to such dangers need adequate system integration at various levels, such as peripheral physiology, the brainstem and hypothalamus, and the cortex and limbic system.

Check the following reference articles to learn more about Psychological, cognitive, physiological and behavioural responses to stress

Angst, J., & Vollrath, M. (1991). The natural history of anxiety disorders. Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica, 84(5), 446-452.

Hilton, S. (1975). Ways of viewing the central nervous control of the circulation are old and new. Brain Research, 87(2-3), 213-219. 

Lacey, J. I., & Lacey, B. C. (1962). The law of initial value in the longitudinal study of the autonomic constitution: Reproducibility of autonomic responses and response patterns over a four-year interval*. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 98(4), 1257-1290.

Carroll, D., Ginty, A. T., Whittaker, A. C., Lovallo, W. R., & De Rooij, S. R. (2017). The behavioural, cognitive, and neural corollaries of blunted cardiovascular and cortisol reactions to acute psychological stress. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, 77, 74-86.

Jamieson, J. P., Nock, M. K., & Mendes, W. B. (2012). Mind over matter: reappraising arousal improves cardiovascular and cognitive responses to stress. Journal of experimental psychology: General, 141(3), 417.

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