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Keywords:

  • allostasis;
  • allostatic load;
  • amygdala;
  • autonomic nervous system;
  • hippocampus;
  • hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis;
  • immune system;
  • neuroplasticity;
  • prefrontal cortex;
  • socioeconomic status;
  • stress

The brain is the key organ of stress reactivity, coping, and recovery processes. Within the brain, a distributed neural circuitry determines what is threatening and thus stressful to the individual. Instrumental brain systems of this circuitry include the hippocampus, amygdala, and areas of the prefrontal cortex. Together, these systems regulate physiological and behavioral stress processes, which can be adaptive in the short-term and maladaptive in the long-term. Importantly, such stress processes arise from bidirectional patterns of communication between the brain and the autonomic, cardiovascular, and immune systems via neural and endocrine mechanisms underpinning cognition, experience, and behavior. In one respect, these bidirectional stress mechanisms are protective in that they promote short-term adaptation (allostasis). In another respect, however, these stress mechanisms can lead to a long-term dysregulation of allostasis in that they promote maladaptive wear-and-tear on the body and brain under chronically stressful conditions (allostatic load), compromising stress resiliency and health. This review focuses specifically on the links between stress-related processes embedded within the social environment and embodied within the brain, which is viewed as the central mediator and target of allostasis and allostatic load.