The Science of Stress and How Our Emotions Affect Our Susceptibility to Burnout and Disease

Popova, M. (2015). The Science of Stress and How Our Emotions Affect Our Susceptibility to Burnout and Disease. Retrieved from

This interest piece by writer Maria Popova discusses the evolution in our understanding of the link between the mind and body. The idea that the body could respond to changes in mood and psychological states has not always been recognized and was in fact, highly contentious in the past.

Ancient Greek and Roman physicians accepted the link between mood and organic changes in the body with the theory of the four humours. They believed that an imbalance in blood, yellow bile, black bile and phlegm was related to mood as well as disease in the body. In the 17th century, this position was almost eradicated; Popova describing it as scientific taboo at the time where the idea that scientific truth lay only in the visible. It would take nearly three centuries and the birth of the concept of stress to reconnect the bonds between the physical and the emotional.

We know today that stress involves both psychological and emotional strain when the demands placed upon us exceed our capacity to cope with them. The resulting stress can be experienced physiologically such as fast breathing and raised blood pressure. Popova highlights the seminal work of Dr. Esther Sternberg whose research on the link between the central nervous system and the immune system examined the interplay between stress, emotions and physical health.

Through her work, we now know that the same parts of the brain that control the stress response, play an important role in susceptibility to some diseases such as arthritis and some mental illnesses such as depression. Furthermore, Sternberg’s work in the area of emotional memories has shown that memory is a key factor in the dialogue between emotions and the senses.

The physical, psychological and emotional are linked in ways that can be beneficial to our sense of wellbeing at times, and detrimental at others. It is crucial then that we learn more about these connections. The Aristotle EI suite of programs does so by focusing teachings on this at varying stages of development. The Foundations program helps students to recognise the potential for attaching emotions to pleasant as well as unpleasant memories, while the Building Blocks program includes a focus on the physiological changes in the body in response to emotional states. In the senior years, students learn about the influence of sleep, diet and exercise on emotional wellbeing (Wellbeing program), while the Resilience program looks at emotions in the stress response.