I recently came across the idea of the Stress Vulnerability Model, expounded by Zubin et all 1977.   I hadn’t seen their model before although the concepts seemed familiar, so that lead to a bit of digging on my part.

The original paper by Zubin et al in 1977 looks at vulnerability in the context of schizophrenia.  Vulnerability: A new view of schizophrenia

What I found more interesting was some contemporary writing from 2010 by Goh and Aguis – The stress-vulnerability model how does stress impact on mental illness at the level of the brain and what are the consequences?  (here is a unpaywalled version)

If you are someone who struggles with stress, then this may be worth a read. 

Its quite a dense article, and addresses amongst other things how stress impacts the HPA axis ( hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis), the main physiological moderator of stress in our bodies via the “stress hormone” Cortisol, and brain areas which may be impacted.  Interestingly although the neurological presentation of various stress conditions may present differently in the brain – for example the authors report that in Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Borderline Personality Disorder the Amygdala, part of the brain which modulates threats, are seen to reduce in size, yet in Bipolar Affective Disorder they increase in size – there is a commonality in how all Stress conditions, eg Schizophrenia,Bipolar Disorder, PTSD, Depression, impact the HPA axis with an prolonged increase in levels of Cortisol (Hypercortisolemia), and attendant down stream impacts.

Another area considered is the genetic patterns of different stressors, and how their neurological, endocrine and physiological patterns interplay with genetic coding, which the authors identify as a “constitutional genetic vulnerability to particular illnesses”.

Nature Loads the Gun, Circumstance Pulls the Trigger

However the old saying is “nature loads the gun, circumstance pulls the trigger” – so put simply whilst we may have a inherent, genetically coded, response to stress, we have the ability to control how we respond to stressors.

And this, of course, is where Yoga, alongside modalities like CBT and Psychotherapy, can help us to change the inner experience.

A carefully crafted Yoga practice is known to protect and strengthen the nervous system; at first it may simply be a case of grounding us and helping us to regulate – basically emotional First Aid – then Yoga may help us to develop coping strategies to improve how we respond to stressors and thus head off our vulnerabilities.  Longer term neuro-plasticity can help us mould new and more resilient brain health – look up both “Hebb’s Rule” and “Neuro-genesis” but these are something for me to write about another day.

As part of my training as a Yoga Therapist I looked at Stress Vulnerability in the context of Psychological Overwhelm – the “stress of being stressed” – for my final Dissertation project.  Interestingly research suggests the type or style of Yoga practised is less important than both the intention to do something, and the skills of the Yoga Teacher/Therapist in holding space.  But these aren’t quick changes to make, and will require some effort and consistent practice to both effect change and to prevent relapse.

Stress, Anxiety and Low Confidence is one of the areas I specialise in as a Yoga Therapist, and I am able to work with people one on one or in small groups.