Psych M.D. - General Adaptation Syndrome

Term: General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS)
Definition (Myers): Selye's concept of the body's adaptive response to stress in three stages--alarm, resistance, and exhaustion.
Definition (Alternative):
General adaptation syndrome, otherwise known as GAS, describes the body's short-term and long-term reaction to stress.Stressors, or events that cause stress, include things like starvation, being hit by a car, or suffering through severe weather--physical things. Additionally, humans can suffer emotional or mental stressors as the loss of a loved one, the inability to solve a problem, or even having a difficult day at work.
(The definition from above is from
Contextual Explanation:
  • Hans Selye developed this concept after a misleading experiment.
  • He studies animal's reactions to different types of stressors--like electric shock, surgical trauma, and immobilizing restraint.
  • He discovered that responses to stress was very similar and "general".
  • These responses were organized into three stages or phases:
Trauma (whether emotional or physiological) ->
PHASE 1: alarm reaction due sudden activation of sympathetic nervous system, leads to increased heart rate, blood flow to skeletal muscles, faint feeling of shock (these responses are the signs that your body is getting ready to fight the challenge that you are faced with).
PHASE 2: resistance, shows itself through rise in temperature and blood pressure, faster respiration rate, and more hormones released.
PHASE 3: exhaustion, when stress is persistent, the reactions mentioned above will eventually lead the person to become exhausted; this is very bad since exhaustion may lead to illnesses, collapses, or even death (in severely extreme cases).

  • Modern research has proved that although the degree of reaction to stressors vary depending the severity of the stressor, it basically follows the three phases developed by Selye. Researchers also state that people can deal with temporary stress, but will suffer physical deterioration if the stress persists over a long period of time.
  • MRI scans show that people who have lived with persistant and severe stress in their lives have a smaller hippocampus than the average person.
  • The hippocampus is an inner brain structure that deals with memory.
  • Conclusion: STRESS is BAD!

Related Terms and Concepts:
  • Stress
  • Coronary Heart Disease
  • Type A
  • Type B
  • Psychophysiological Illness

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