MOST PEOPLE would agree that certain events in their life, such as bereavement, changing jobs, examinations, or even rush-hour travel in big cities, are stressful. We try to avoid stress, but if we cannot, we must try to adapt to it. This adaptation is sometimes referred to as ‘toughening up’. Although stress is difficult to define, we know that both avoidance and toughening up are crucial ways of coping with it.
When we cannot cope, stress can lead to irritability and fatigue, and other more serious disorders, such as gastric ulcers, cardiovascular disease, anxiety and depression. Yet not everyone subjected to severe stress suffers from a heart attack or a bout of depression: some individuals are much more vulnerable than others. Many neuroscientists now suspect that the difference in the ability to cope may lie in biochemical changes in the brain involved in the process of adaptation to stress.