Researchers conducted a study on rats and revealed that the possibility of controlling the source of stress may be key to reducing its impact.
Stressed woman sitting alone
Controlling stress is important to reducing its negative consequences.

Everybody experiences stress at some point in their lives.

Sometimes, stress can be a positive force and lead to positive outcomes.

However, when it becomes chronic, it might produce a range health complaints.

These may include headaches, muscle tension, chest pain, gastrointestinal issues, insomnia, and mental health conditions.

According to the American Psychological Association, the top causes of stress in the United States include job pressure, money, health, relationships, poor nutrition, media overload, and sleep deprivation.

Around 80 percent of U.S. individuals regularly experience physical symptoms caused by stress. It is essential to learn how to manage stress to reduce the risk of physical and mental issues.

Some strategies to reduce stress include identifying its cause and developing a plan to address it, getting regular physical activity, and trying relaxation techniques such as breathing or meditation, as well as building strong relationships with family and friends.

Stress exposure in adolescence

Many people start to experience stress during adolescence. During this delicate phase, causes of stress can include family pressure, bullying, or performance anxiety.

Stress in adolescence may increase the risk of developing psychopathologies in adulthood, such as anxiety, addiction to alcohol or gambling, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

A team at the Institute of Neuroscience at Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona in Spain conducted a study on three groups of male rats.

They found that the ability to control stress sources in adolescence may reduce the risk of negative effects in adulthood. They published their findings in the journal Scientific Reports.

They exposed one group of rats to several sessions of stress during their adolescence, which they had the ability to control with certain behaviors. By changing their behavior, they could either prevent or stop the stressful stimuli.

Another group underwent the same number of stress sessions as the first, but its members did not have the ability to affect their stress levels using behavioral changes. The team did not expose the third group to stress.

Reducing the negative impact of stress

While exposing the rats to stress, the researchers measured their endocrine response through the activity of the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis (HPA), which is the central stress response system.

During the adult stage, they measured the expression of dopamine type 2 receptors in the dorsal striatum, which is an area of the brain that impacts behaviors. The scientists also measured a variety of cognitive factors.

The results showed that HPA activation caused by controllable and uncontrollable stress was equal in the groups’ first exposure to stress. However, as the animals experienced more stress, a key difference between the groups appeared.

The controllable stress group had a lower HPA response, while the uncontrollable stress group developed an increase in motor impulsivity and a decrease in cognitive flexibility.

In addition, the behavioral impact of uncontrollable stress led to an increase in dopamine type 2 receptors in the dorsal striatum. This is a part of the brain involved in impulsivity and cognitive inflexibility. Stress did not affect other aspects, such as attention and cognitive impulsivity.

According to study co-leader Roser Nadal: “Despite the fact that being exposed to situations of stress has short- and long-term negative effects on behavior and physiology, there are several factors which could mitigate its impact. We have observed that one of these factors is the possibility of having control over the source of stress.”

This animal study shows that promoting strategies to control stress sources in adolescence is one of the crucial factors that can help decrease the risk of high stress levels in adulthood and reduce vulnerability to physical and mental issues.