Anybody can get stressed and, at some point, all of us experience stress.
That said, people do have individual genetic and biological predispositions that can affect how they respond to stressful situations. We also differ in the type of situations we find stressful. For instance, one person may enjoy meeting new people, whereas the same situation may make someone else feel stressed.
A certain amount of stress is healthy and natural. It’s good to be faced with challenges that don’t overwhelm your capacity to cope. The stress response is designed to help you get through threatening situations and thus it is necessary for your survival.
Certain factors make individuals vulnerable to experiencing stress. Events that happen to an individual early in life, such as in the womb and during childhood, can have a lasting impact on the way the person’s body and brain responds to stress throughout life. If these events are harmful, such as childhood abuse, they can increase a person’s vulnerability to become stressed later in life.
The stress experienced by previous generations, such as our parents and grandparents, also seem to influence our vulnerability to stress and certain diseases on some level. Thus, it seems that some of the effects of stress can be transmitted from one generation to another.
Resilience describes the ability to bounce back from stressful experiences. Resilient individuals are able to move forward at the same, or sometimes even better, level of wellbeing – despite having experienced stressful events. Resilience is determined by genetic factors, previous life experiences, and the person’s environment.
Reviewed by Dr Leigh van den Heuvel, psychiatrist at the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, Stellenbosch University and Tygerberg Hospital. August 2018.
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