A systems approach to stress, stressors and resilience in humans

Barry S. Oken, Irina Chamine, Wayne Wakeland

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

152 Scopus citations


The paper focuses on the biology of stress and resilience and their biomarkers in humans from the system science perspective. A stressor pushes the physiological system away from its baseline state toward a lower utility state. The physiological system may return toward the original state in one attractor basin but may be shifted to a state in another, lower utility attractor basin. While some physiological changes induced by stressors may benefit health, there is often a chronic wear and tear cost due to implementing changes to enable the return of the system to its baseline state and maintain itself in the high utility baseline attractor basin following repeated perturbations. This cost, also called allostatic load, is the utility reduction associated with both a change in state and with alterations in the attractor basin that affect system responses following future perturbations. This added cost can increase the time course of the return to baseline or the likelihood of moving into a different attractor basin following a perturbation. Opposite to this is the system's resilience which influences its ability to return to the high utility attractor basin following a perturbation by increasing the likelihood and/or speed of returning to the baseline state following a stressor. This review paper is a qualitative systematic review; it covers areas most relevant for moving the stress and resilience field forward from a more quantitative and neuroscientific perspective.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)144-154
Number of pages11
JournalBehavioural Brain Research
StatePublished - Apr 1 2015


  • Allostatic load
  • Psychological stress
  • Resilience
  • Systems science

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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