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Hans Selye's General Adaptation Syndrome

Stage 1: The Alarm Reaction
First is the ‘alarm reaction.’ We are all familiar with the heightened reaction
we feel when we’ve narrowly avoided a traffic accident, or the nervous anxiety that consumes us before taking a test or speaking in public. All those primitive reflexes kick in, from the sweaty palms and goose bumps, to the quivering tense muscles and shortness of breath. No, there’s no sabre tooth tiger in the audience, but according to our nervous systems, there might as well be!

 

Stage 2: The Stage of Resistance

It now appears that most of us are walking around in this stage.

We get stuck in this stage when stress occurs over a length of time.
Most would agree life is already stressful before even considering some of the high-stress challenges we must endure. Intense situations like demanding jobs, rigorous schooling, long-term troubled or dysfunctional relationships, prolonged illnesses or auto accident rehabilitation.

To survive, we somehow find a balance or equilibrium that allows us to function day after day under the pressure. The surge of the alarm reaction is dampened, but our engines are constantly idling in a perpetual low-level ‘fight or flight.’ In Kinesiology we call this state "balanced imbalanced".

In order to cope, we subconsciously redefine this continually stressed state as ‘normal,' …despite the negative consequences of the constant drain on our system.

As world-renowned researcher Bruce McEwen warns in his book ‘The End of Stress as We Know It,’ “stress protects under acute conditions, but when activated chronically it can cause damage and accelerate disease.”

As this process repeats itself though life, the cumulative effect can be dramatic. We do the best we can, but inevitably we find ourselves functioning less efficiently, usually well below our true capabilities. Without major lifestyle changes, over time we gradually become more and more susceptible to various stress-related illnesses.

And unfortunately, "we carry our stress with us for a lifetime.” This is how
J. Douglas Bremner opens his book, ‘Does Stress Damage the Brain?’ He goes on to clearly demonstrate how our “short-term survival response can be at the expense of long-term function,” ultimately causing permanent damage in our brains, our bodies and our psyches.

Stage 3: Stage of Exhaustion
After prolonged stress, the system resources become depleted. This is classic ‘burn out,’ with fatigue, adrenal exhaustion and a weakened immune system. The physical signs of alarm can reappear and the system shuts down, becomes debilitated and ultimately death may even occur.

In his book ‘Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers,’ Robert Sapolsky presents evidence that it’s not the depletion or exhaustion but the stress response itself that ultimately causes the body to break down.

As he clearly points out, "If you repeatedly turn on the stress-response, or if you cannot appropriately turn (it) off at the end of a stressful event, the stress-response can eventually become nearly as damaging as (the) stressors themselves. A large percentage of what we think of (as) stress-related diseases are disorders of excessive stress-response."

 

 

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