Allostatic Load

By Eric Ruelle

While teaching in Detroit, I learned about a concept called “allostatic load.” For those that are unfamiliar with the term, it requires a little bit of exposition. First, back in saber-tooth tiger days, humans experienced stress in a very different way than we do today; for example, say that saber-tooth tiger jumped out and tried to feast on us, our reaction would be to either engage or disengage (the prototypical 'fight or flight' response) – this was all due to a reaction to the stress hormone in our bodies. After the response was made, we could go back to our normal state of being.

We experience stress in our society today consistently, whether it be at work, in the home, dealing with relationships, and the fifty other things on your to-do list. Instead of having that fight-or-flight response, we continue to build on our stress, causing our allostatic load to increase. The higher the load, the more stress you feel, the worse it is for your health! Chronic stress can lead to a variety of different health problems, so it's important to be aware of how you're experiencing stress.

As higher ed professionals, we have the added task of taking on some of the allostatic load of our students, or other colleagues. StrengthsQuest has set Empathy as my #1, which results in me wanting to remove some of that negative energy and taking it as my own. I have had to deal with the fact that lately I haven't been as effective as I would like to be, and part of that was due to the allostatic load that I had created for myself, and had taken on from others. I am not recommending being a stonewall to others, but I am reminding those like me that you are continually adding pressure to your life, and you need to be conscious of your limitations. 

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