January 19, 2014


Extreme environments are stressful environments.

In chapter 1 of Extreme we discuss the  sources of stress (the stressors) and explore what research has to say about how people cope with stress. We learn that stress occurs when an individual is subject to demands that exceed, or threaten to exceed, their capacity to cope – so it is not just the objective nature of the stressor that’s important, but also the individual’s subjective interpretation of the likely impact of that stressor. 

People who thrive in extreme environments experience stress but learn to manage it by understanding the risks and preparing thoroughly – so that they can ‘control the controllables’. We discuss how they prepare in Chapter 9 (Knowhow) and also look at the surprising beneficial effects of (just-enough-but-not-too-much) stress in Chapter 11 (Resilience).

The references we drew on for Chapter 1 include:

Arnsten, A., Mazure, C. M. & Sinha, R. (2012). This is your brain in meltdown. Scientific American, 306(4), 48-53.

Cacioppo, J. T. & Patrick, W. (2008). Loneliness: Human Nature and the Need for Social ConnectionNew York: WW Norton & Company.

Cannon-Bowers, J. A. & Salas, E. (1998). Team performance and training in complex environments: Recent findings from applied researchCurrent Directions in Psychological Science, 7, 83-87.

Dickerson, S. S. & Kemeny, M. E. (2004). Acute stressors and cortisol responses: a theoretical integration and synthesis of laboratory research. Psychological Bulletin130, 355-391. [pdf]

Hughes, V. (2012). The roots of resilience. Nature490, 165-167. [pdf]

Lazarus, R. S. & Folkman, S. (1984). Stress, Appraisal, and Coping. New York: Springer.

Lazarus, R.S. (1966). Psychological stress and the coping process. New York, NY, US: McGraw-Hill. [out of print]

Martin, P. (1997). The sickening mind: Brain, Behaviour, immunity and disease. London: HarperCollins.

Martin, P. (2005). Making happy people: The nature of happiness and its origins in childhood. London: Fourth Estate.

Palinkas L.A, Johnson, J.C., et al. (2004). Cross-cultural differences in psychosocial adaptation to isolated and confined environments. Aviation, Space & Environmental Medicine, 75, 973–80. [open access]

Ritsher, J.B., et al. (2007) Psychological adaptation and salutogenesis in space: Lessons from a series of studies. Acta Astronautica, 60, 336-340

Taylor, S. E. (2011).  Affiliation and stress.  In S. Folkman (Ed.). Oxford handbook of stress, health, and coping (pp.86-100).  New York: Oxford University Press.

Wetherell, M. A. et al. (2006). The four-dimensional stress test: Psychological, sympathetic-adrenal-medullary, parasympathetic and hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal responses following inhalation of 35% CO2Psychoneuroendocrinology31, 736-747.

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