Essay on Psychobiological Approach to Work Stress

There are a great number of sources which affect human species like danger, threat, violent death and other stressful results. The biological reaction to stressors is considerable for many individuals. People are very sensitive to the social, familial environment. Numerous conflicts concerning individual safety can cause excessive stressors, dismay, immense bodily reactions and threatening emotions.

People need cognitive coordination and harmony to live peacefully in the world. Stressful reactions often result in negative physiological conditions, for example, starvation, dehydration, heat, pain, bleeding, etc. All these negative events add to balance of biological disorder. Being wounded in combat, for example, adds to the likelihood of developing post-traumatic stress disorder. (Pitman)

The biology of disasters reactions is very complex. It involving biological defenses against a threat, mechanisms related to learning and adaptation, responses to social cues, reactions to loss and separation, and effects of cognitive disarray and chaotic experiences. (Selye)

The following biological responses can cause mental disorders.

  • survival – related, immediate stress response;
  • learning mechanisms engaged by stress responses;
  • the neglected biology of loss, separation and grief;
  • post-event habituation or sensitization.

The motivation of the body’s stress response has a typical temporal cause on behavior, cognition and emotions. The common stress response follows a three phases described by Selye: alarm, resistance and return to either equilibrium or exhaustion. Consequently, many people quickly experience a feeling of relative depletion or exhaustion. (Selye)

Under sharp stress human behavior may become acute and goal oriented. However, it can become ineffective and unorganized in the absence of clear goals such as possible ways to prevent danger and enemy, etc.

Firmness of insufficient actions, lack of resourcefulness, and increasing anxiety may result in mental crisis. Hence, such people appear in a difficult cycle of inadequate efforts to cope with a stressor. They are unable to disengage from such acts, fail to use all available resources and become increasingly distressed. Such negative effects can break down the bio-psychological cycle of distressed cognition.

Moreover, extreme stress may cause disrupting cognition and action to the point of appearance of confused reactions and thinking.

Under conditions of excessive stress responses may also be over-focused and incomplete. The ‘gun barrel’ memory, in which a victim clearly remembers the barrel of a gun pointed toward his or her body, but does not recall the assailant’s face, is an example of focused and incomplete attention. Perception of the salient and threatening effect is increased at the expense of allocating attention to peripheral objects. Dissociative symptoms during stressful events may also represent an altered cognitive response (Marmar).

The basic stress hormones, cortisol and epinephrine have considerable impact on the sharp response to stress. Adrenergic (or sympathetic) activation provides alarm response while circulating cortisol assists this response by shutting off unnecessary bodily activities such as immune response and terminates the acute adrenergic response via a negative feed back mechanism. Circulating cortisol, in fact, goes back to the hypothalamus and the pituitary and shuts off the secretion of its own modulators (CRH and ACTH) as well as that of the adrenergic response. It has been argued, recently, that a failure to mount appropriate levels of cortisol during traumatic events may lead to prolonged adrenergic activation and thereby increase the risk for developing post-traumatic stress disorder (Yehuda).

“The increase of bio-psychological responses to traumatic events increases in circumstances that are uncontrollable and inescapable.” (Seligman and Meier, p.5).

Direct alarm reactions are followed, in the brain, by a large number of neuronal and genomic events (Post), leading, among others, to an increase in the synthesis CRH and cortisol-related receptors. These shifts encompass areas of the brain that are not immediately involved in the hormonal stress response.
According to the dispensing of these biological alterations, in the brain, there are two types of memory traces of stressful events: explicit memories (verbal and retrievable) and implicit memories (shifts in habits, conditioned responses). Non-verbal, implicit memories of traumatic events may shape future behavior in the lack of conscious elaboration and verbal recall such as causing fear responses upon exposure to reminders of a traumatic event.

The behavioral reply to unexpected and uncontrollable loss includes distressful desire for the lost object and constant attempts to restore its definite or symbolic remainders, depressed mood and loss of interest in most other activities.

Hypnosis is one of the effective ways in the treatment of pain, fear, depression, and stress. Psychologists use hypnosis to help manage chronic pain and nerve damage stress causes. Hypnosis can be useful in overall stress management related to chronic areas of disease. People usually go into a trance state and healing power is increased when an individual enjoys something very deeply (hypnosis). In spite of distinctions in approach, psychologists agree that hypnosis is a helpful tool. It was not seen as harmful and is a powerful aid to help patients use the most powerful medical tool in their own mind.

Nowadays there are many approaches of Mind Body therapy. They are governed by six basic principles:

  • Mind and body are interrelated with the external environment. Mind Body interventions help physically as well as mentally, and physical interventions help mentally as well as physically;
  • Stress and depression contribute powerfully to chronic disease. Stress and depression can increase mortality from certain diseases;
  • Demonstrably , the mind affects the body through psychoneuroimmunology, a medical discipline that controls the physical effects of the mind mediated by the central nervous system, peptides, neuropeptides, and hormones. These biochemicals help monitor immunity;
  • Mental outlook has an influence on physical health . Health is improved by optimism and acceptance; however, it is diminished by anger, pessimism, and unrelenting, chronic stress;
  • Placebo effects can cause salvation. They can have a significant impact on many physical characteristics, and are an important element in many mind body interventions;
  • Social support enhances and sustains health. Friends, family, and supportive clinicians contribute to efficient conventional therapies.

Researchers recognize these main principles after witnessing the efficiency of different mind body interventions. Clinicians state that mind body therapy can become a potent medical approach. They include: relaxation, breathing, psychological growth, exercise and movement, social support.

Nowadays, there are various programs which protect employees’ health, prevent and lessen occupational accidents, injuries, work-related illnesses. The main objectives of such programs and regulations are:

  • to improve working conditions and environment;
  • to create worldwide awareness of the dimensions and consequences of work-related accidents, injuries and diseases;
  • to promote the aim of basic protection for all workers in conformity with international labour law;
  • to implement effective preventive and protective policies and programs;
  • to reduce the number and seriousness of occupational accidents and diseases;
  • to adapt the working environment, the working conditions, equipment and work processes to the physical and mental capacity of all workers;
  • to enhance the physical, mental and social well-being of men and women workers in all occupations;
  • to encourage national policies and preventive action programs on occupational safety and health and supplying appropriate assistance to implement them to governments and employers’ and workers’ organizations.

Thus, safework provides an integrated multi-disciplinary approach. It takes into account the physical, mental and social well-being of men and women workers. Preventative action programs focus on dangerous sectors, industries and occupations such as mining, agriculture, construction; certain types of workers who may appear in a complex situation because of gender and age such as women and elder workers; those who don’t have social and health protection such as informal migrant and child workers. In the past decades women moved into industry and service sector and became almost 50% of the workforce in many countries. Women in agricultural sector have a high incidence rate of injuries and diseases and are insufficiently ensured by health services and programs. At the same time, the average salary of rural women is less than that of men. Many women in the agricultural labour are engaged in mixing or application of harmful pesticides without proper protection and information, suffering from intoxication and in some cases death. Difficult work during crop cultivation and harvesting can result in still-births, premature births and death of the child or the mother. Women employed in health care services get less payment and experience difficult working conditions and numerous occupational safety and health hazards. They include work-related diseases of a complex multifactorial nature such as musculoskeletal disorders, cardiovascular diseases, psychosomatic and mental health disorders, occupational cancer, respiratory diseases, neurotoxic effects and other illnesses caused by chemical agents. Radiation exposure can result from portable x-rays, other diagnostic tests or therapies using radioactive sources or waste; they can provoke mutagenic and teratogenic effects including occupational cancer.


1. Marmar CR, Weiss DS, Schlenger WE, et al. (1994) Peritraumatic dissociation and posttraumatic stress in male Vietnam theater veterans. Am J Psychiatry 151: 902-907.
2. Pitman RK, Altman B, Macklin ML (1989). Prevalence of posttraumatic stress disorder in wounded Vietnam veterans. Am J Psychiatry, 146: 667-669
3. Post-RM (1992) Transduction of psychosocial stress into the neurobiology of recurrent affective disorder. Am J Psychiatry. 149: 999-1010
4. Seligman MEP. Meier SF (1967) Failure to escape traumatic shock Journal of Experimental Psychology 74:1-9
5. Selye H. (1956) The stress of life, New york. McGraw-Hill.
6. Yehuda R, McFarlane AC, Shalev AY (1998) Predicting the Development of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder from the Acute Response to a Traumatic Event, Biol Psychiatry, 44:1305-1313

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