What Is Allostatic Load?

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Man, the pandemic… it’s… ugh… it’s a bad time.

Regardless of who you are, whether you’ve got your feet on the ground and are looking at peer-reviewed data or have decided to don some manner of tinfoil hat (of any shape or size), these times are difficult and frustrating.

If you’re one of those folks who think this whole thing is no big deal re: public health (for purposes of disclosure, I will cry “not it” to this stance), you’re frustrated about the economic impact. Think we’re shooting ourselves financially in the foot for no good reason.

If you’re one of those folks who think it’s a serious public health crisis and needs a very uncomfortable response (it me), you’re still dealing with stress from what managing the crisis takes. (Job losses, plummeting retirement accounts, etc.). And you’re also worried about the health stuff on top of it. How it affects you personally as well as how it has or could potentially affect everyone around you.

Some people are really upset that they couldn’t get their hair done.

I mean, whatever, I look like Wilson the volleyball from Castaway right about now, but that’s the least of my worries. In my own case, my father passed away during the pandemic, and therefore we couldn’t hold the normal service that he — and his community — would have wanted.

And I know other people are dealing with much more disruption and instability than that.

The pandemic is a bad time. This is no one’s favorite time. (If you insist this is your favorite time, I question your values, as it would require ignoring a lot of suffering, debility, and death going on around you. From the virus, yes, but also the ongoing and/or forthcoming economic depression).

What Is Allostatic Load?

There’s a term I’ve been hearing a lot given all this: Allostatic load. So what do this mean? Essentially, it’s a term that describes the damage that occurs in our bodies when we’re chronically exposed to stressful experiences. While stress can be a good thing in moderation, when it’s unresolved and exceeds our ability to cope well with it, we become what’s colloquially known as “stressed out.” And it’s when we’re stressed out that our body begins to bear allostatic load.

It’s been a subject of research for some time now.

Several experts have been out doing media rounds, talking about how the pandemic is increasing allostatic load for individuals, pretty much across the board, due to increased isolation and novel stress born from it.

At the time I’m writing this piece, multiple studies are ongoing exploring how covid-19 is increasing our allostatic load. (Here’s a link to one if you want to participate, with the caveat that this link may very well become inactive the further away from time we get from it.)

I personally plan to keep my eye on not only this field of research but also my personal allostatic load in the coming days, weeks, and months.

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This post is part of an ongoing Poly Land feature called Psyched for the Weekend, in which I geek out with brief takes about some of my favorite psychological studies and concepts. For the entire series, please see this link.

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Books by Page Turner:

Dealing with Difficult Metamours

A Geek’s Guide to Unicorn Ranching

Poly Land: My Brutally Honest Adventures in Polyamory 

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