General Adaptation Syndrome is the name used to describe how we respond to stress and we all respond the same way. This concept was coined by Dr. Hans Selye, one of the fathers of modern stress theory and basically, it means that all animals, including human beings, respond to stress in the same way or more specifically, our stress responses all follow the same pattern or the same three stages.
First, comes alarm, which is that “deer caught in the headlights” reaction. This is the moment of time it takes the body to recognize it is facing a danger or threat and to rev itself up to deal with the problem or situation. The body produces the hormone called Adrenaline at this point and the HPA (Hippocampus-Pituitary-Adrenal) Axis also sends out some Cortisol to lend further assistance.
Next up is coping. If the stressful event or situation goes away, the body will attempt to return to normal or homeostasis, but if the stressor sticks around or gets worse, the body will do its best to release the resources needed to cope with the stressor. However, our bodies can’t stay in this state for long periods as the body does not have unlimited stress response resources. This stage is called resistance, just like resistance training with exercise bands.
Eventually, the body uses up all its coping resources and becomes exhausted. If we don’t rest or eliminate the stressor, the body will change over to bodily resources not meant for the purpose of dealing with stress. For example, the body will begin to rely on other systems, such as the central nervous system and the circulatory system a backup plan. If this happens too often, the body will start to break down and eventually become very ill.
This is the point at which free radicals start to be made in excess, oxidative stress occurs and the immune system is wiped out. Of course, extreme oxidative stress leads to serious chronic degenerative disease mentioned throughout this website. There are more than 200 diseases now believed to be caused by over-use of our general adaptation system. These include, ulcers, depression, diabetes, digestive system troubles or even cardiovascular problems, along with various mental illnesses.
To prevent this eventual and almost guaranteed outcome, it is critically important to recognize the four main fields of stress and the four types or levels of stress and then ensure you are not exploiting your body for the sake of an out of control lifestyle. The body is reparable when it is young, but as it ages, its ability to bounce back decreases rapidly. For example, when you are young, your body produces billions, if not trillions of redox signaling molecules (RSM’s) each and every day, but with each passing decade, we make fewer of these molecules, which are responsible for healing and regeneration. By the time you are 70 or if you develop a serious chronic degenerative disease, your body likely will be producing only about 10 percent of the RSM’s it produced before the teen years began. For this reason, it is critically important for you to be aware of how general adaptation syndrome works and how to protect yourself from the damage it can cause.