General Adaptation Syndrome (G.A.S.)


Stress is really prevalent. While you may not be able to eliminate all stressors from your life, you can manage stress and keep yourself healthy. Stress can create mental exhaustion, irritation, and insomnia, thus this is crucial.

Even if you are aware of the physical impacts of stress, you may not be aware of the several stages of stress, referred to as general adaption syndrome (GAS). It’s simpler to spot indicators of chronic stress in oneself if you understand the many stages of stress and how the body reacts to them.

Fast facts about GAS:

  • When the body is stressed, it goes through a three-stage process called GAS.
  • It’s critical to figure out how to handle it so that the body’s consequences are minimised.
  • Life events and psychological stress are among the factors that contribute to the onset of the condition.

What is General Adaptation Syndrome

Man is by nature hedonistic in that we like to remain in a tensionless state therefore whenever an individual is under stress he makes some responses to bring back the organism to a state of normalcy. Stress responses by an individual may be categorised as

  • Physiological, in the sense that the body alters in response to the stress
  •  Behavioural, the individual may change behaviour in order to deal with the stress
  • Coping strategies may or may not involve a change of overt behaviour.

In 1926, a young medical student named Hans Selye noticed that patients in the early stages of infectious diseases exhibited similar symptoms, regardless of the type of disease they had. 

He observed a set of three common responses that occurred whenever an organism was injected with a toxic substance:

  1.  The adrenal glands enlarged
  2. The lymph nodes and other white blood cells producing swelled at first then shrank, and
  3. In the stomach and intestines, there was bleeding.

He called these three common responses the General Adaptation Syndrome and proposed that certain changes take place within the body during stress that disrupts normal physiologic mechanisms and trigger an array of diseases. 

No matter what type of organism he looked at,  he noticed that physical and emotional stress-induced a pattern that, if left untreated, always lead to infection, illness, disease, and eventually death. The figure illustrates what Hans Selye observed. 

Selye’s General Adaptation Syndrome has three stages, as depicted in the diagram. Let’s look at what happens during each stage that makes us more susceptible to disease.

 Stage 1: Alarm Reaction

Any physical or emotional trauma will result in a cascade of stress-response responses. Normal levels of resistance are diminished as the immune system is first suppressed, making us more susceptible to infection and disease. We bounce back and heal quickly if the stress is not severe or long-lasting.

 Stage 2: Resistance

We adapt to stress over time, often rather quickly, and we have a tendency to become more resistant to illness and disease as a result. During this time, our immune system is working overtime to keep up with the demands imposed on it. We grow oblivious to our circumstances and believe that we can withstand the consequences of stress eternally. That is where the risk is. We typically do nothing about stress because we believe we are resistant to its effects.

 Stage 3: Exhaustion

We invariably have a quick reduction in our resistance level because our body is unable to sustain homeostasis and we lack the long-term resistance required to handle stress. Although no two people have the same level of stress resistance and tolerance, everyone’s immunity eventually breaks down as a result of persistent stress reactions. Life-sustaining mechanisms slow down, organ systems begin to fail, and our stress-fighting reserves are depleted, which Selye refers to as a disease of adaptation.

General Adaptation Syndrome is regarded to be the primary reason why stress causes so many health issues. Stress upsets the natural equilibrium of our bodies, which is known as homeostasis and is critical for one’s well-being. It can also reduce the number of years we live by hastening the ageing process.

 Definition of GAS

The G.A.S. may be defined as the manifestation of stress in the whole body, as they develop in time. As we have seen, a fully-developed G.A.S. consists of three stages: the alarm reaction, the stage of resistance, and the stage of exhaustion. 

Yet it is not necessary for all three stages to develop before we can speak of G.A.S. Only the most severe stress leads rapidly to the stage of exhaustion and death. Most of the physical or mental exertions, infections, and other stressors, which act upon us during a limited period, produce changes corresponding only to the first and second stages.  At first, they may upset and alarm us, but then we adapt to them.

Normally, in the course of our lives, we go through these first two stages many, many times. Otherwise, we could never become adapted to all the activities and demands which are all part of an individual’s life. Even weariness does not have to be permanent and total as long as it only affects certain sections of the body.
Running, for example, creates a stress response in our muscles and cardiovascular system. To deal with this, we must first stretch and prepare these organs for the task at hand.

Then, for a while, we will be at the height of efficiency in running, but eventually, exhaustion will set in. This could be compared with an alarm reaction, a stage of resistance, and a stage of exhaustion, all limited primarily to the muscular and cardiovascular systems. But such exhaustion is reversible. After a good rest, we will be back to normal.

The stages of most human activities are similar to those of the G.A.S.

Read more: Symptoms of Anxiety

The Diseases of Adaptation

Many diseases are caused by our incapacity to adapt rather than what happens to us and are hence referred to as diseases of adaptation. Peptic ulcers in the stomach and upper intestine, high blood pressure, heart attacks, and mental disorders are the most prevalent of these ailments.

Of course, any event places demands on us and so produces stress, but stress diseases affect only those who are unable to manage, either due to innate flaws or a lack of understanding.

Adaptation illnesses, on the other hand, are a relative concept. There is no such thing as a disease of adaptability. There are no disease producers that the organism can handle so well that maladaptation has no influence on their effects on the body.

 The Concept of Adaptation Energy

The selective exhaustion of muscles, eyes, or inflamed tissue all represent the final stages in local adaptation syndromes (L.A.S.) only. Several of these may develop simultaneously in various parts of the body; in proportion to their intensity and extent, they can activate the G.A.S. mechanism. It is when the whole organism is exhausted that we enter into the (fatal) stage of exhaustion of the G.A.S.

We appear to have secret supplies of adaptability, or adaptation energy, all over our bodies. Local weariness sets in as soon as local stress depletes the most easily available local reserves, and activities in the strained area must cease. This is a crucial protective strategy because more adaptation energy can be made available during the enforced period of rest, either from less easily accessible local stores or from reserves in distant sections of the body. Only when all of our adaptability has been exhausted will we experience permanent, general fatigue, and death.

How to overcome stress and stay motivated to accomplish one’s goals.  When one has stressed it is difficult to keep the motivation going.  Motivation is something that differs with each person. There are some who benefit and work better with external motivators, and there are others who require internal motivators.   Stress not only affects one’s motivation levels, but it also affects the person’s immune system and other health functions. Therefore, if one faces issues of stress,  the person may be damaging his or her health as well as their motivation for success.

In order to overcome the issues of stress and lack of motivation, the person will need to figure out what motivates him or her, as well as what one can do to limit the stress and deal with it.

GAS Exhaustion Preventative Measures

Some of the things one may do include the following:

  • Take time for yourself.  
  • Reward oneself with little things.  
  • Take time to think about the stress, but not dwell on it.  
  • Realize that there are some things that can control and some things that are beyond one’s control and leave out things that cannot be controlled and move on.  
  • To look at problems and stressful situations as challenges that one can overcome.  
  • Keeping a positive attitude.

Of the various things listed above the one that is most important is to have time for oneself.  To think about oneself and take care of oneself, as a lot depends on how one looks at the stress in terms of being healthy.  A healthy person would look at stress in a healthy way, a relaxed person will not allow the stress to overwhelm him and thus taking time to oneself and relaxing and being with oneself and one’s thoughts are important to overcome any kind of stress.  By looking after oneself one can take care of the stresses also.

Another important thing is being happy and for this even patting oneself at the back for having done something good is sufficient to keep off the stress.  Everyone does good things at one time or the other.  Everyone achieves something at one time or the other.  Looking back at these achievements and patting oneself in the back or giving oneself a reward such as going on a vacation with family or get a DVD which one had wanted to see for a long time or get a storybook which one wanted to for a long time but could not do so due to pressure of work, can be indulged in as a self-reward.  Also, it is important to consider what all can be controlled by one’s own self and what are beyond one’s control. One should not unnecessarily keep on harping on issues that are beyond one’s control.  The more the effort to control the uncontrollable stresses, the more the frustration and more stress.  It is important to therefore consider calmly whether some stress issue is within one’s control, and if not the person should allow it to pass and not try to overcome it.

The ability to approach stress as a challenge, rather than meekly surrendering to it, would go a long way toward coping with it. As a result, one’s motivation will remain high, and one will work tirelessly toward one’s goal.

Also, a positive attitude and looking at things more positively and in a more optimistic manner would also keep the stress level down and the motivation level high.

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