Stress and stress protection

Stress is a common phenomenon that has both psychological and physical effects on many people. Psychosocial (work) stress, for instance, is an independent risk factor for somatic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, which have topped the list of most common causes of death in industrial nations for years. Exposure to stress can also cause considerable cost to the public health system.

When the connection between stress and the risk of falling ill is considered, the physiological response to stress seems to play a decisive role. In our research, we use standardised tests to provoke psychosocial stress and to examine the kinetics and mechanisms of stress reactivity in physiological parameters from blood and saliva. The examined physiological systems include human stress systems such as the sympathoadrenomedullary system (SAM) and the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA), but also the immune and coagulation systems as well as other stress-reactive intermediary-biological risk factors for cardiovascular disease. Our current work focuses on intracellular stress responses that are then expanded to include age-relevant parameters. We are particularly interested in the correlatives and determinants of physiological stress reactivity. We identified the cognitive evaluation of the stressor as a psychological determinant; psychological correlatives include, amongst others, personality traits such as the excessive willingness to exert energy (overcommitment) or perfectionism, but also relative factors such as role stress. As regards stress protection, we investigate the stress-protective effects of selected psychological and other interventions in addition to the correlation between potential protective factors (e.g. social support, stress management skills, advantageous emotional regulation, sports activities) and reduced physiological stress reactivity. Previously effective interventions include stress management training, taiji practice or the consumption of dark chocolate.