Allostasis is a commonly known medical term. The definition of allostasis is termed to oppose that of its synonym homeostasis. Allostasis is used to describe the body in it’s attempt to attain a new normal after it is altered by an external stimulus. Homeostasis on the other hand, is used to describe the bodies set, standard normal. If you’re not in a science field and that sounds like a bunch of wonkiness to you, don’t worry, I’m not going to go much more in depth. I might miss school a little bit and I might be a bit of a nerd but I won’t bore you to death.
Although both of the terms allostasis and homeostasis are used to describe the body in relation to equilibrium, they can be incorporated into life terms more broadly. Maybe allostasis and homeostasis can be seen outside of our bodies ability to regulate our temperature, hunger, thirst and blood pressure. Maybe both of the terms can be interpreted in our mental processing of change. When we experience external change we must re-adapt. We embrace new environments, meet new people, accept new guidelines and in some form or way move on from the previously accepted way of living. Although these measures may be slightly more conscious than our bodies internal thermostat, they both involve a stimulus that introduces changes, a control center that attempts to regulate the change and an output that tries to rebalance the system.
Allostasis can easily be interpreted with it’s relation to coffee. When we begin drinking coffee regularly, our bodies undergo an allostatic change which builds a tolerance to the caffeine in coffee. Before you begin drinking coffee everyday, your body is at homeostasis. In life, this can be seen as how you’re living before a change that alters the path of your everyday world. It can be the set normal you had living at home with your family before heading off to university, the life you established when you were away at university, the loss of someone close to you or the addition of a new family member. There are constant changes in the duration of life, some small, others much bigger.
These changes may be implicated every so often or much more regularly. Just like our body regulating our systems, we may have control over some of these changes but we are also at a loss to control others. We find different interests, potential dislikes, learn new lessons, meet new people and well, find a new place to put your keys so that you don’t have to hunt for them every time you try to leave your house. Whatever the cause, we adapt. These changes, over time become our new normal. Just like when you start drinking coffee everyday, your body has to reset internal reactions which then leads to a higher tolerance. Little by little, this new chapter of your life just becomes your life. This higher tolerance eventually becomes your “new” homeostatic level. It becomes your normal, standard, everyday routine. Similarly as to how our bodies will send us through withdrawal if we go cold turkey on our coffee consumption, life has it’s obstacles to keep us moving forward instead of backwards.
Homeostasis and allostasis act as a compromise between change and balance. We continually adapt and reset ourselves to handle change, either big or small, internal or external. We learn new tactics, different tricks and all the while; we may just have to try that decked out that extra whipped cream, double caramel, no cream frappuccino at Starbucks.