Dynamic Interactive AdaptabilityYour guide to promoting growth, resilience, and wellness in turbulent times

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A thing about being human

In most biological systems, the perceived danger triggers the stress mechanism. When the danger is gone, the organism switches from fight-or-flight mode to rest-and-relax mode as the organism restores itself to homeostasis. If the danger is persistent or severe and the organization cannot adapt, the system can suffer harm.

Although the human stress mechanism works the same way, humans can interpret and interact with their environment, and consciously determine their responses to perceived threats. Schwarzer and Taubert (2002) call this process the cognitive-transactional framework through which stress is as an “on-going process, initiated and maintained by the cognitive appraisal of demands and resistance resources” (p. 2).

The cognitive-transactional interaction can have both good and bad consequences. On the good side, humans can control their perceptions and reactions to environmental factors and use creativity to face and grow through challenging situations. On the bad side, humans can generate internal stressors through worry and imagination. Internally generated stress can magnify and distort the severity of the external stressor; make mountains out of molehills.

Similarly, humans have the capacity for compassion, empathy, and sympathy. These feelings can trigger secondary trauma, which can have a more pronounced impact on the secondary sufferer than on those who actually experienced the event. For example, in his analysis of the Columbine shootings and aftermath, David Cullen (2009) observed that many of the students who directly witnessed and experienced the violence would “turn out fine,” while other students who had not even been on campus “would be traumatized for years” (p. 153). The tertiary trauma experienced by students, parents, and communities through global media coverage offers an additional consideration for how humans tend to respond to and dwell on stressful events that neither happened to them nor near them.

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