If you have an interest in the science of stress and how it affects your health, one phrase you may sometimes hear is “allostatic load.” But you may not be clear on what allostatic load is or why it is important.
The concept of allostatic load was introduced by McEwen and Stellar in 1993. In simple terms, your allostatic load is the burden of chronic, ongoing stress you are under on a continuous basis.
Emaline Friedman, PhD explains, “In essence, high allostatic load or overload denotes the presence of stressors that pose too great a challenge to the natural individual coping mechanisms and reflects the cumulative effects of associated, health-damaging behaviors (e.g., poor sleep, lack of exercise, alcohol consumption).”
Research shows that people who are subject to a high allostatic load tend to struggle more with their health.
On top of that, stress is not fun for anyone. The higher your allostatic load, the more overwhelmed you probably feel psychologically in general at any given time.
A number of factors can increase allostatic load. These might include malnutrition, a lack of socioeconomic privilege, factors in one’s environment, existing health problems, challenging life events, and so on.
Alas, sometimes one cannot do much about such factors. By definition, if you lack privilege, you often lack the means to break free of your troubles. But here are some things you can do that might help:
It can be difficult to hear that your allostatic load is detrimental, and that what you can do about it may be limited by your circumstances. Still, even being aware of your allostatic load and doing your best to find ways to cope and alleviate strain can help.
Allostatic load is very much a societal problem, being as many of the factors that feed into it are the direct result of how our society is organized. For that reason, it is also important for all of us—no matter how high or low our allostatic loads may be—to contribute to building a society that provides the support that all of its members need to live healthy and fulfilling lives.
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