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Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2018, 15(3), 464; https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph15030464

Generalized Unsafety Theory of Stress: Unsafe Environments and Conditions, and the Default Stress Response

1
Institute of Psychology, Unit Health, Medical and Neuropsychology, Leiden University, 2300 RB Leiden, The Netherlands
2
Institute of Psychology, Unit Clinical Psychology, Leiden University, 2300 RB Leiden, The Netherlands
3
Department of Psychology, The Ohio State University, Columbus, OH 43210, USA
*
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Received: 31 December 2017 / Revised: 13 February 2018 / Accepted: 27 February 2018 / Published: 7 March 2018
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Stress and Health)
Full-Text   |   PDF [397 KB, uploaded 7 March 2018]

Abstract

Prolonged physiological stress responses form an important risk factor for disease. According to neurobiological and evolution-theoretical insights the stress response is a default response that is always “on” but inhibited by the prefrontal cortex when safety is perceived. Based on these insights the Generalized Unsafety Theory of Stress (GUTS) states that prolonged stress responses are due to generalized and largely unconsciously perceived unsafety rather than stressors. This novel perspective necessitates a reconstruction of current stress theory, which we address in this paper. We discuss a variety of very common situations without stressors but with prolonged stress responses, that are not, or not likely to be caused by stressors, including loneliness, low social status, adult life after prenatal or early life adversity, lack of a natural environment, and less fit bodily states such as obesity or fatigue. We argue that in these situations the default stress response may be chronically disinhibited due to unconsciously perceived generalized unsafety. Also, in chronic stress situations such as work stress, the prolonged stress response may be mainly caused by perceived unsafety in stressor-free contexts. Thus, GUTS identifies and explains far more stress-related physiological activity that is responsible for disease and mortality than current stress theories. View Full-Text
Keywords: stress theory; default stress response; chronic stress; generalized unsafety; perceived safety; somatic disease; loneliness; low social status; natural versus urban environment; early life adversity stress theory; default stress response; chronic stress; generalized unsafety; perceived safety; somatic disease; loneliness; low social status; natural versus urban environment; early life adversity
This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited (CC BY 4.0).
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Brosschot, J.F.; Verkuil, B.; Thayer, J.F. Generalized Unsafety Theory of Stress: Unsafe Environments and Conditions, and the Default Stress Response. Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2018, 15, 464.

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