Let’s talk about stress (aka The GAS Syndrome)

What are you stressing for?
What are you stressing for?

Let’s talk about GAS. No, I am not talking about the kind that requires treatment with Bean-O. Be serious. I am a lady and I wouldn’t talk about gas in public.

I am talking about GAS – the General Adaptation Syndrome – developed by Hans Selye.

In 1936 a researcher by the name of Hans Selye developed a model that explained how the body reacted to stress, both short term and long term stress. Ever since studying this as a college student, I have found this theory to be true. When I got really sick over this past Christmas and New Year it fit directly into Hans’s three step model.

I don’t advocate testing on animals, never have and never will, but back in the day, Hans used mice. He placed the mice in different stressful situations, like in water to see how long they could endure, and observed not only how they behaved in simulated conditions, but also how they adapted to stress. He came up with 3 levels of stress, each with varying intensity.

He discovered that the body responds to outside stress in predictable ways. He also found that the body will work hard to adjust to the stress and keep the body in a state of internal balance. This is done through the hormone system in the body. He is quoted as saying, “Every stress leaves an indelible scar, and the organism pays for its survival after a stressful situation by getting a little bit older.”

The theory is not one of doom and gloom, really. By knowing what occurs, we can take of advantage of things that help us stay healthy – exercising, meditation, slowing down our pace, saying “no” at times, journaling, etc.

When the body is in balance it is called eustress. It sure would be nice and good for our minds and health if we could live in the state of eustress. But due to our hectic lifestyles we are often in one of the 3 stages of stress. First, the alarm stage, this is the initial reaction to something stressful or dangerous. Most often this is called the fight or flight syndrome. The body senses something wrong, such as a fire in the kitchen, and switches into high gear. Adrenaline, noradrenaline, and cortisol are released. These stress hormones allow a person to move quicker and even can strengthen them to do something they ordinarily couldn’t do. I think we’ve heard of stories such as the mother who was able to lift the back of her car off the ground because her child was under it. (How the child got there unnoticed in the first place is not a question for this report. But it does make you wonder…)

Stage 2, the resistance stage. This occurs after the main crisis has passed. The body works to lower the production of the stress hormones and works to repair damaged muscle. The body has not returned to eustress yet. In this stage the person is on guard as the stressor may still be present or the person needs to continue to cope with an ongoing situation for an extended period of time. The body is now in a steady state of stress, though not to the high degree as in the alarm stage. Many of us live in this stage frequently. We have to get to work, catch the bus, cook dinner, run the children to and from several activities, our boss expects our report on her/his desk by 9 am tomorrow and it’s not done all the way, book club meetings, and doctor’s appointments, etc. You know what I am talking about. You keep going day after day to keep up with all the demands.

Stage 3, the exhaustion stage. This stage occurs when the body has been coping with stress for an extended period of time and the body is out of energy and can no longer adapt to the stress. The body starts to lose strength and weaken because it has been coping for so long that it can no longer produce adaptive hormones. This is believed to be the gateway to burn out or stress overload. Illness can occur. I could have predicted that I’d get sick over the holidays because I had been working extra hours, trying to get ready for Christmas, worrying over finances, running here and there, etc. Probably all the things you were doing, too. I know from past experience that when I take vacation time I get sick. (That is why I avoid taking vacation.)

So what to do? Prioritize your activities. You might find there are some things on your list that can be ignored or moved to another time. Make sure you get a good night’s sleep. Exercise. Drink lots of water. Learn to say “no” without feeling guilty. Make daily “me” time. Pray or meditate. (All the things I know to do, but don’t think I have time to do. I have got to rewire my thinking. It is, after all, in my best interest.) It really is true that an ounce of prevention is worth more than the cure.

Next on the blogging menu: predicting stress level and illness. There is a tool called the “Life Changes Stress Test” that can help predict level of stress, health, and illness.  Until then, take care of yourself.

Blog You Later!

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