Stress and Regulation research

The human biosystem can be seen as a complex network of control loops that preserve the dynamic equilibrium of the organ system in the face of constantly changing physical and psychosocial demands of our environment.

Every form of external stimulation and internal impulse prompts a response from the body’s highly intricate regulatory systems, which include the immune, hormone, nerve, metabolic and musculoskeletal systems, as well as the psyche. Seen from this perspective, human health is a function of the efficiency of the organism’s overall regulatory capabilities.

Distress or harmful stress is the outcome of a mismatch between the demands placed on the system and the ability to cope with those demands. Stress tolerance differs from person to person. External demands play an equally decisive role in stress management as personal factors such as individual attitudes, experience and subjective evaluations.

In this context, regulation refers to the individual’s ability to respond effectively to periods of acute stress, and to return to a physically and mentally relaxed state once the stress has subsided. Relaxation or recovery involves regeneration (or adaptation) in the organism as a whole.

These two forms of activity are known professionally as the sympathetic (mobilising the body’s resources) and parasympathetic or vagus (relaxing) nervous systems.

Here, the autonomic nervous system (ANS) plays a key role. It maintains haemodynamic stability, and regulates cardiovascular, thermoregulatory, gastrointestinal, urogenital, exocrinal-endocrinal, and pupilomotor functions, which in turn maintain the human body’s inner balance.

A sense of coherence (SOC) is central to the salutogenic model developed by Aaron Antonovsky. He described the sense of coherence as “a global construct that expresses the extent to which one has a pervasive, enduring though dynamic feeling of confidence that one’s internal and external environments are predictable and that there is a high probability that things will work out as well as can reasonably be expected” (Antonovsky, 1997, p16)

The sense of coherence is a web of individual, family and social experiences that comprises three components:

  1. A sense of comprehensibility: this has its origins in the feeling of consistency, which is derived from aspects such as a general lack of contradictions, a structured view of the world, awareness of one’s own personality and social role, a secure future, job security, shared values within a group, and receiving satisfactory explanations of the unknown (see ibid., p110f).
  2. A sense of manageability: this involves striking a balance between the extremes of overload and underload.
  3. A sense of meaningfulness: this results from the opportunity to actively participate in and design those aspects of our lives which we consider to be important. “When others decide everything for us-when they set the task, formulate the rules, and manage the outcome-and we have no say in the matter, we are reduced to objects . A world thus experienced as being indifferent to what we do comes to be seen as a world devoid of meaning” (ibid., p93)

 

Heart rate variability (HRV) is a measure of the general adaptability of an organism and as a result also an indicator of health.