Home 4 Provost Seminar Series 4 Stress and Injury
Updated February 22, 2005

Stress is a broad and popular term that is used in describing how the human body reacts to challenges, usually as an interaction of environment, biology and behavior. While the term itself is imprecise and its use differs across disciplines, it describes a complex, and inherently interdisciplinary phenomena. The body responds to external (physical and social) and internal (psychological and social) environments through a series of primary stress mediators. These hormonal and neurotransmitter mediators begin a cascade of physiological responses that can affect emotional and cognitive functioning, behavioral responses and health. The adaptive responses of these mediating and physiological mediators can have short-term protective effects, short-term maladaptive effects or long-term damaging effects to health. Better understanding of the physiological markers can be useful in understanding how individual sensitivity (based on genetics, development and life events) affects resilience or risks for injury (both intentional and unintentional), how environmental characteristics interact through biology to affect risk behaviors for causing injury (particularly those fostering continued hypervigilance), and how interactive cycles of injury and stress physiology and behavior can continue as repercussions of injury.

The interdisciplinary bio-behavioral study of stress is an intriguing new research theme for Injury Science. Biomedical studies have linked the physiology of stress to a broad range of health outcomes, but little has been done in the area of injury. Stress responses are complex, interactive phenomena requiring integrative, interdisciplinary research. In terms of Injury Science, the physiology of stress can be examined as both a cause and an outcome, with a focus on: primary injury prevention; immune system responses, wounding and healing; and post–injury repercussions.

Helpful Links & Resources

The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Research Network on Socioeconomic Status and Health has produced an excellent interdisciplinary notebook on Allostasis and Allostatic Load.

Dr. McEwen's book, The End of Stress As We Know It (2002), provides an accessible overview of the subject and can be accessed online through the National Academies Press site.

See the chapter on biobehavioral factors in health and disease, in Health and Behavior: The Interplay of Biological, Behavioral, and Societal Influences (2001) through the National Academies Press site.

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