Stress is a central concept in biology and is now widely applied in the psychological, physiological, social, and even environmental fields. However, the concept of stress has been used interchangeably to refer to different elements of the stress system, including stress stimuli, stressors, stress responses, and stress effects. Although the concept of stress has been developed from the “general adaptation syndrome” (“GAS”) as described by Hans Selye, it has now grown and evolved considerably as now it is describing as a “state of homeostasis being challenged, including both system stress and local stress” (Lu et al, 2021). Specific stressors can induce specific local stresses, but stress levels above the threshold level typically activate the “hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal system”, triggering a systemic stress response. The framework of the stress system shows that there are three types of stress. Sustress (insufficient stress), Eustress (good stress), Distress (bad stress). Both stress and distress can impair normal physiology and even lead to pathological states, whereas youth stress may benefit health through optimization of hormesis-induced homeostasis. Therefore, optimal stress levels are essential for building a biological shield that ensures normal life processes (Lu et al, 2021).
Over the past few years, the perception of stress has developed significantly, and even though the current understanding of stress has been expanded from the innovative influences of Claude Bernard, Walter B. Cannon and Hans Selye, stress does not relate sorely on the intense activations of the “hypothalamic pituitary adrenal axis (“HPA”) and a series of compensatory sympathoadrenal responses when homeostasis is threatened” (Lu et al, 2021). Nowadays, stress does not only include the adverse characteristics such as GAS, recognised as “threats to health and life, but also the positive aspects such as adapting to the existing environment and anticipating future challenges” (Lu et al, 2021).
The purpose of this essay is to analyse the biological and social approaches in relation to stress and how these two approaches are able to influence our bodies and minds followed by a general overview on those two psychological approaches and the possibility of them being more similar in their effects than what it may present itself as.
In biological psychology, scientists examine the biology behind behaviour, studying genetics and physiology to explain actions and experiences and its main focus is on the brain activity. Moreover, in addition to being a field of study, biological psychology is viewed as a perspective, since it believes that we think and act as we do as a consequence of brain mechanisms we evolved because ancient animals with these brain mechanisms survived and reproduced better than animals without them. Therefore, biological psychology is not just a field of study, but a way of looking at the world (Kalat, 2015).
Considering the above, one of the most important processes of our brain relates to perception, which represents the way we see, feel, and understand the world, for example, touch is transmitted to the brain through the nervous system and we understand that a hand disconnected from our body is unable to feel anything, thus, can appreciate that the human brain is the main organ of a human being, it is what separates us from the animal reign and what allows us to evolve as a species and relate to others. There is often an association between psychological stress and changes in stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline (Tsigos & Chrousos, 2002, as cited in, Qassem and Kyriacou, 2023). The stress response is governed by cortisol, which regulates the process from elicitation to recovery.
There is a complex relationship between stress, stressors, and acute pain, which is influenced by a variety of biological, psychological, and social factors and processes. The fact remains, however, that pain may occur without peripheral pathology, which is particularly pertinent when considering the possible relationship between stress and pain. Stressors can be traumatic stimuli associated with peripheral pathologies such as an injury, which are directly connected to a painful experience, however, there are various types of stress that have an unclear relationship to pain, such as psychological, social, and chemical stimuli (Croft, 2010). An interesting fact of the perception of the brain is that it can be distracted from the pain though verbal diversion or simply white noise which can significantly decrease the disagreeableness of pain (Craig, 1996, as cited in Croft, 2010). This allows us to comprehend that the reaction to pain is not a definite system and it is rather dynamic as it can be affected by emotions, memory, motivation, as well as other sensory and homeostatic input. According to Croft (2010) all forms of pain, including imaginary pain, are processed within a complex construct in the brain named “the matrix”.