Theory of stress and coping
homeostasis encompasses all biological regulatory mechanisms. Allostasis deals with the regulation of stress activation in social behavioural adaptation, and is therefore more suited when considering psychosocial stress (9). Allostatic overload corresponds to the critical homeostatic point for psychosocial overload.
When humans are exposed to danger, they react with stress responses. These are innate and learned programmes that are mobilised to survive danger. The programmes are mainly fight-flight-freeze
Mental stress increases when there is a mismatch between adaptational demands and coping resources. We define coping with mental stress as the constantly adapted efforts at thoughts and behaviour that the individual uses to deal with specific external or internal demands, that are experienced as challenging, or which exceed the person’s resources
(11). However, the experience of mental stress can also occur when the demands are less than the coping resources, when people find that they are not able to use their abilities and talents to a satisfactory degree.
Another perspective is the distinction between positive and negative response expectation, the learned expectation about how one is going to cope with something, hereafter referred to as
expectation of coping. Positive expectation of coping may be referred to as the optimism and self-confidence that arise from being accustomed to coping with challenges. Negative expectation of coping may be referred to as pessimism and low self-esteem, or in extreme cases as learned helplessness (12, 13).
When there is a good balance between the individual’s coping resources and sociocultural demands, the individual will cope well with the stresses of life and have a low level of allostatic load. He or she will have a low level of anxiety and depression, enjoy high self-esteem and have good health (e-fig. 2).
Figure 2 Health as allostasis: model for the individual’s coping, measured by examining allostatic load (stress activation) as the balance between the individual’s coping resources and the sociocultural expectations/demands that the person encounters in private and working life