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Psychological Hygiene Hypothesis

Stress is also known to have an inoculating effect. Research shows that people who overcome difficult life circumstances go on to enjoy higher-than-average levels of resilience. In short, achieving mastery in trying situations builds emotional strength and psychological durability.
- Lisa Damour, How to Help Teenagers Embrace Stress, NYT, Sept. 19, 2018


Researchers actually use the apt term stress inoculation to describe the well-­documented finding that people who are able to weather difficult life experiences, such as riding out a serious illness, often go on to demonstrate higher-­than-­average resilience when faced with new hardships.
- Lisa Damour, Under Pressure, p. 4


The stress inoculation hypothesis presupposes that brief intermittent stress exposure early in life induces the development of subsequent stress resistance in human and nonhuman primates. ...
People with the capacity to maintain healthy emotional functioning in the aftermath of stressful experiences are said to be resilient, or stress resistant (1, 2). Researchers have sought to identify attributes associated with stress resistant individuals, with the expectation that understanding the etiology of stress resistance may lead to the prevention of stress-related psychiatric disorders. One intriguing finding to emerge from this retrospective research has been that stress resistance is associated with childhood exposure to mildly stressful events (1, 3). Prospective longitudinal studies of nonhuman primates support this finding, because monkeys exposed to brief, 1-h periods of maternal-separation stress exhibit diminished anxiety and attenuated hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal (HPA)-axis responses to subsequent stressors compared with unmanipulated monkeys (4). ...
An alternative to the maternal mediation hypothesis is the stress inoculation hypothesis, which is based on the notion that mild stress, and the acute anxiety and HPA-axis activation that it engenders, is necessary for the development of subsequent stress resistance. Several theorists have likened the development of stress resistance to acquired immunity (1, 3). Immunity, whether naturally occurring or therapeutically induced by inoculation, derives from exposure to a mild version of a pathogen that strengthens immunological resistance. Similarly, early exposure to mild stress may “inoculate” the developing organism, thereby enhancing resistance to subsequent stressors. In the following experiments, we investigated the roles of maternal mediation and stress inoculation in the development of stress resistance in squirrel monkeys.
- Karen J. Parker, Christine L. Buckmaster, Karan Sundlass, Alan F. Schatzberg, and David M. Lyons, Maternal mediation, stress inoculation, and the development of neuroendocrine stress resistance in primates, PNAS February 21, 2006 103 (8) 3000-3005; https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.0506571103



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