Reaction to Stress (General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS))
When a person experiences stress, the brain responds by initiating 1400 different
responses including the dumping of a variety of chemicals to our blood stream. This gives
a momentary boost to do whatever needs to be done to survive. If left unchecked, however,
the person can have a heart attack or stroke. Many people start drinking alcohol. They get
depressed, find it difficult to sleep, experience chest pain. The body runs out of the
immunity to fight diseases. So, very often, these persons die of disease such as cancer,
pneumonia, etc. The stress will never be identified as the cause of the death. I call the
stress the proxy killer. Some other disease always takes the blame for it.
Doctors call the bodys reaction to stress as General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS).
There are three stages to GAS.
In the first stage of GAS called alarm reaction,
the body releases adrenaline and a variety of other psychological mechanisms to combat the
stress and to stay in control. This is called fight or flight response. The muscles
tense, the heart beats faster, the breathing and perspiration increases, the eyes dilate,
the stomach may clench. Believe it or not, this is done by nature to protect you in case
something bad happens. Once the cause of the stress is removed, the body will go back to
If the cause for the stress is not removed, GAS goes to its second stage called resistance or adaptation. This is the bodys response
to long term protection. It secretes further hormones that increase blood sugar levels to
sustain energy and raise blood pressure. The adrenal cortex (outer covering) produces
hormones called corticosteroids for this resistance reaction. Overuse by the body's
defense mechanism in this phase eventually leads to disease. If this adaptation phase
continues for a prolonged period of time without periods of relaxation and rest to
counterbalance the stress response, sufferers become prone to fatigue, concentration
lapses, irritability and lethargy as the effort to sustain arousal slides into negative
The third stage of GAS is called exhaustion. In
this stage, the body has run out of its reserve of body energy and immunity. Mental,
physical and emotional resources suffer heavily. The body experiences "adrenal
exhaustion". The blood sugar levels decrease as the adrenals become depleted, leading
to decreased stress tolerance, progressive mental and physical exhaustion, illness and
The hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) chain of command has served humans well as a
means of survival for thousands of years. However, for those suffering from chronic
anxiety and depression this process malfunctions. Continual stress early in life disrupts
the cycle. Instead of shutting off once the crisis is over, the process continues, with
the hypothalamus continuing to signal the adrenals to produce cortisol. This increased
cortisol production exhausts the stress mechanism, leading to fatigue and depression.
Cortisol also interferes with serotonin activity, furthering the depressive effect.
Continually high cortisol levels lead to suppression of the immune system through
increased production of interleukin-6, an immune-system messenger. This coincides with
research findings indicating that stress and depression have a negative effect on the
immune system. Reduced immunity makes the body more susceptible to everything from
and flu to cancer. For example, the incidence of serious illness, including cancer, is
significantly higher among people who have suffered the death of a spouse in the previous
year. Fortunately, this immune-suppression process can be corrected with psychotherapy,
medication, or any number of other positive influences that restore hope and a feeling of
self-esteem. The ability of human beings to recover from adversity is remarkable.
Thus, very often, those under severe, prolonged stress may contract diseases related to
immune deficiency and may even die of these diseases. The death does not come from stress
itself. What happens is that the body loses all its resistance in its effort to ward off
the stress. Thus the persons die of immune deficiency causes such as infection, cancer
etc. So, it is very important that we recognize the cause for stresses and remove the
causes to maintain a healthy lifestyle.
Another result of stress is the clogging of the arteries by the fat and cholesterol
released by the body during the attempt to fight stress. This may result in a heart attack
or you may suffer a stroke by losing blood supply to the brain. Many people start drinking
to combat the stress. Stress can also manifest itself into a number of diseases
depression, headaches, insomnia, ulcers, asthma, and more.
Next Topic: Early warning Signs of Stress