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General Adaptation Syndrome

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How does the body adjust to stress?

General Adaptation Syndrome

Stress comes in many forms--physical, mental, environmental. Stress, as applied to human beings, is a fairly recent concept. Originally, it was an engineering term. When applied to human beings, stress was considered to be a reaction to a specific event, sort of a one-at-a-time phenomenon. Then, in the 1930s, Hans Selye introduced the concept of generalized stress.

The body reacts to any stressor in the same generalized way, sometimes called the fight-or-flight syndrome: faster heartbeat, delayed digestion, increase in blood pressure, decreased immunity, etc. This is great for running away from a hungry lion, but not so good for sitting in traffic, missing an important meeting.

Stress is cumulative. Marriage is good stress and divorce is bad stress, but both are stress. It does add up, although some people can handle more than others. That's why it's generally unwise to quit smoking, go on a diet, and start a new job, all at the same time. The accumulated stressors, although not bad, may be hard to handle. It's better to phase things in.

Selye also developed the theory of the General Adaptation Syndrome. In this, there are three stages of stress. First is alarm, the introduction of stress. Then comes adaptation, as the body and/or mind adapts to the new stressor. Third, if the stressors are high and the alarm keeps going off, is exhaustion, when the body and/or mind are overwhelmed and can no longer adapt. You will want to use self-hypnosis to turn down the stress before it reaches stage 3.

The Holmes-Rahe scale ranks sources of stress. Death of a spouse is most stressful at 100. Other examples are going to jail, 63, starting or finishing school, 26, and the Christmas season, 12. Divorce is 73 and marriage is 50.

   

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