The Science of Stress: 5 Ways To Reduce Your Allostatic Load

Updated: Jan 12


The Science of Stress: 5 Ways To Reduce Your Allostatic Load

“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” is a popular motivational phrase adapted from the book Twilight of the Idols by philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. You may have heard this from a motivational speaker or seen it in an image while scrolling through social media. Deciphering this maxim, you are encouraged to overcome fear and take another step towards achieving your dreams. Some may be reminded of obstacles that they have overcome and feel that they are indeed stronger, understandably so. Also, some may question the meaning of what it means to be strong. The doubt of the latter is well-founded as research has proven this maxim to be a half-truth, in various ways.


Besides motivational phrases, modern humans have inherited incredibly adaptable bodies. However, just as hard work requires sacrifice, adapting to stress requires sacrifice from the body. As stress builds, its ability to adapt declines. The brain and physiology change, and sometimes result in unhelpful stress-relieving activities. These changes contribute to Allostatic Load. The term may be news to you as nobody is diagnosed with Allostatic Overload; current medicine deals with tackling symptoms, not the root causes - the body is complex and not fully understood. A brief understanding of Allostatic Load offers us more perspectives and thus options to live a life of increasing wellness.


What is Allostatic Load?


Allostatic Load is the increasing burden of chronic, or long-term, stress and life events. It can be identified with the changes in biological state and clinical criteria. When your ability to cope is overwhelmed by challenges in life, Allostatic Overload follows. [1]

What does Allostatic Load include?


Daily life experiences, both ordinary and life events; Ordinary events are long-standing life situations that are subtle; Life events are major challenges.


The changes in physiology (chemistry and physics behind basic bodily functions) as you engage in health-damaging behaviours like poor sleep, circadian disruption, lack of exercise, unhealthy diet, smoking, and alcohol consumption.


What is Allostatic Overload?


Allostatic Overload is an extreme state where your stress response systems are constantly activated, and buffering factors are insufficient. [2] You may notice a decline in physical functioning and mental faculties. Image 1 below shows the clinical criteria required for Allostatic Overload.


What is Allostatic Overload? Clinical criteria for allostatic overload
Image 1: Clinical criteria for allostatic overload (Guidi et al., 2020, p. 12)

How to measure Allostatic Load?


While you may be unable to place a finger on this, this section contains allostatic load examples, allostatic load biomarkers, high allostatic load symptoms, predictors, associations, and the risk factors for allostatic load, all of which feed into each other. [3]


Health

High allostatic load is linked with poor sleep quality, unhealthy diet, lack of physical activity, habitual alcohol consumption, smoking, and ailments. Higher body-mass index, high-fat content in blood, being overweight are related.[4] Individuals’ self-rated stress is markedly higher, along with poor self-health, psychological distress, abnormal illness behaviour, low wellbeing and impaired quality of life.

Notice how much sunlight you are getting, as low Vitamin D levels are a predictor.

So too is adult anxious attachment style, probably due to associated stress. Pharmacotherapy such as sleeping pills to manage allostatic overload symptoms may be counterproductive due to negative effects. [1]


Sociodemographic factors

Low socioeconomic status, low income, low education, renting one’s home, and household crowding are factors. Additionally, adversities over the life course, and gender-related characteristics, and weight discrimination are linked. [1]


Living or growing up in impoverished or segregated neighbourhoods, racial discrimination, ethnic hostility, are wider community factors. Also linked are the long duration of a migrant’s residence, and acculturation stress.


Individual’s perception of the following factors is unhelpful – neighbourhood quality, racial discrimination, social inequality, and inequality, pollution level. [1]

Childhood

Adverse childhood experiences, harsh parenting in adolescence, lower family support and negative family interactions are linked. [5]

Work

The work environment quality, job stress, poor quality job, burnout syndrome, caregiving and self-employment are linked. [6]


5 tips to reduce Allostatic Load

  1. Individual Psychological Well-being and coping styles may help with allostatic load associated with sociodemographic factors. Adults who grew up in a low socioeconomic situation, but adapted to life stressors while looking towards the future, had lower levels. This is related to attempting for a greater purpose in life. As the great psychiatrist Viktor Frankl, the author for Man’s Search for Meaning taught, a man can find meaning in any situation, regardless of his background,his age, his IQ, his sex, and his religion. His Logotherapy technique is worth learning. Avoid disengagement coping styles, which focus attention and effort on alleviating negative emotions from a stressor rather than alleviating or eliminating the stressor itself. Do not suppress emotions. Replace unhelpful thinking patterns with helpful ones, a habit known as cognitive reappraisal; do not ride on trends. Reduce your expectations. As the adage goes, if you want to be satisfied, lower your desires. Being satisfied with your housing helps. Keep it neat, especially if there is crowding, and ensure healthy environmental quality. Living near a larger amount of vegetated land is associated with low allostatic load if that is possible for you. Curb consumerism habits. [1]

  2. Higher Psychosocial Resources help. This means seeking community assistance and/or counselling, psychiatric, and psychological treatment. Psychotherapeutic strategies aimed at improving coping with stressful situations help to lower allostatic load.

  3. Value Social Connections and seek communities, even digital ones. Religious attendance helps, though not all are inclined to it. Consider pets if you can take care of them. [1]

  4. Actively Self-Learn. Gain physical and mental skills; adapt them throughout your life. [1]

  5. Mitigate Work Stress. Job quality, rest, reducing work stress, and ensuring equal effort-reward aids in low allostatic load. [7] Caregivers require help for stress relief. If you’re self-employed, use problem-focused coping strategies. Employers can allow work reorganisation and inculcate stress management habits. This may reverse allostatic overload and stimulate recuperation.

Reducing stress may be simple, though the long-term effects and the impact on the body’s ability to cope with challenges are neglected and can be harder to negate.


Lowering allostatic load, avoiding overload, and all the related problems may be tough, but the beginning can be as easy as changing perspective. Implement simple and favourable steps little by little to ease into habits that your mind will automatically gravitate towards.

 

At frankie, we make mental healthcare and wellness easy for all with just one small task a day. Head on guided wellness journeys that understand your stressors or triggers or work with our behavioural and wellness professionals - all from the comfort and privacy of your home. Sign up for our Closed BETA here.

 

About Our Writer

Faizi is a fresh marketing graduate who runs an Instagram page on Alexander the Great. His view on life is summarised by the book title, “Only Cry for the Living”, though he has not read the book. Spending much of his undergraduate years transitioning from a religious to secular life, he hopes for a better future for apostates and has given interviews to this end. For him, The Only Easy Day is not Yesterday, but Today, because Today is easier to get through than Yesterday or Tomorrow.

 

This editorial section solely expresses the opinion of frankie and is not endorsed nor commissioned by any external party. The list is non-exhaustive. At frankie, we believe that your best provider of medical advice is your doctor. Please consult a doctor before undergoing any treatment or procedure.

 

References

1. Guidi, J., Lucente, M., Sonino, N., & Fava, G. (2020). Allostatic Load and Its Impact on Health: A Systematic Review. Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics, 90(1), 11–27. https://doi.org/10.1159/000510696


2. (2021, June 10). 5 Ways to Reduce Workstress and Allostatic Load. ClimbtheLadder. https://climbtheladder.com/5-ways-to-reduce-workstress-and-allostatic-load/


3. Guidi, J., Lucente, M., Sonino, N., & Fava, G. (2020). Allostatic Load and Its Impact on Health: A Systematic Review. Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics, 90(1), 11–27. https://doi.org/10.1159/000510696


4. Samuel, L. J., Gaskin, D. J., Trujillo, A. J., Szanton, S. L., Samuel, A., & Slade, E. (2021). Race, ethnicity, poverty and the social determinants of the coronavirus divide: U.S. county-level disparities and risk factors. BMC Public Health, 21(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12889-021-11205-w


5. Shawn, M. B. (2020, October 26). What Does ‘Allostatic Load’ Mean For Your Health? PsychologyToday. https://www.psychologytoday.com/sg/blog/presence-mind/202010/what-does-allostatic-load-mean-your-health


6. Bruce, S. M. E. (2005, September 30). Stressed or stressed out: What is the difference? NCBI. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1197275/


7. Logan, J. G., & Barksdale, D. J. (2008). Allostasis and allostatic load: expanding the discourse on stress and cardiovascular disease. Journal of Clinical Nursing, 17(7b), 201–208. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1365-2702.2008.02347.x