Inevitably, most of us encounter stressful events. These events can vary a lot – they may be just ongoing day-to-day hassles, or they could be extremely traumatic; they might involve conflicts with other people; they may occur in the workplace or at home.
We deal with these stressors through both behavioral and biological processes. In response to a stressor numerous systems in the body and brain are activated to meet the demands of the situation. Among other things, blood is diverted from the digestive system and other non-vital systems and pushed to muscles, making us faster and stronger than we would normally be. Our senses are enhanced, so that we become highly focused. Moreover, various chemicals are released from cells to help us deal physically and emotionally with the challenges at hand.
Most often we are able to deal with stressors. However, we are not always successful in dealing with them, and when the demands of the situation exceed what we’re able to cope with, various physical and mental health problems can evolve. For instance, if distress is sufficiently intense and long lasting, then our resources to deal with adverse events can become overloaded and under such conditions our vulnerability to illness is increased.
In addition to the negative effects of stressful events, it seems that stressors may also promote positive effects. Stress can get us going; it can result in taking action or a new understanding of our situation. When adjusting to different situations, stress can lend us a hand or hold us back depending on how we need to respond. Striking a balance between positive and negative stress is one of the challenges of everyday life.
Interestingly, whereas some individuals readily succumb to stress-related illness, others seem to be hardly affected by adverse events. No doubt there are multiple factors that influence the effects of stressors, including our previous experiences, methods of coping, personality factors, and inherited characteristics. As researchers of social stress we are interested in understanding the influence of close relationships (e.g., friends, partners, and family members), social groups (e.g., religion, culture, or gender), and stress of everyday life events (daily hassles). Understanding how people cope with stressors and how this affects their health and well-being is an important part of our work. If you’re interested in learning more about stress and social relationships, or would like to participate in research on stress, please follow the links on this page.