Universiteit Leiden

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Research project

Exposed to events that never happen: Genaralized unsafety and prolonged psysiological stress responses

The aims of the project are to: further clarify 'inhibition by safety'; explore and describe all possible sagety factors, with a special focus on the primary human safety source: social connectedness; reviewing prolonged stress responses without stressors.

Jos Brosschot

Background and aims

The precise psychobiological mechanisms leading to chronic physiological stress responses have not been sufficiently explained, although stress is a mojor risk factor for disease and early death. A problem for conmentional stress theory is that most of these responses seem to occur in situations without (sufficient) actual stressful events. These include loneliness, a history of early life stress, low social economic status, discrimination, lack of natural enviroment, having on old, obese or otherwise 'unfit body' and much more. The generalized unsagety theory of stress (GUTS) radically reverses stress theory by stating that the stress response is a default response, which is always 'on' unless inhibited by perceived safety: an evolutionarily old, largly unconscious process. The chronic stress response is a prolonged disinhibition of the default stress response (DSR) due to insufficient safety. Safety factors appear to be monifold but understanding of their nature and significance is at a very early stage.

Currently, there is a urgent need for extensive multydisciplinary theoretical exploration and inventory of safety factors of animals and humans, to detect multiple potential inhibitors of chronic stress responses and test them. It is also neccessary to explain how chronic stress responses associated with a common chronic stressor, work stress, are due to the long stressor-free situations between, but unconsciously associated with, stressors, in hreal life and lab (virtual reality).

Taken together, exploring the multilevel 'inhibitors' of the DSR is crucial for the further development of stress theory and to understand chronic stress responses, and is a prerequisite for developing effective prevention strategies.

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