By peace | December 23, 2006
It was by chance that Hans Selye (1907-1982) stumbled upon the idea of the General Adaptation Syndrome (G.A.S.), which he first wrote about in the British journal Nature in the summer of 1936. The G.A.S., alternately known as the stress syndrome, is what Selye came to call the process under which the body confronts “stress” (what he first called “noxious agents”). In the G.A.S., Selye explained, the body passes through three universal stages of coping. First there is an “alarm reaction,” in which the body prepares itself for “fight or flight.” No organism can sustain this condition of excitement, however, and a second stage of adaptation ensues (provided the organism survives the first stage). In the second stage, a resistance to the stress is built. Finally, if the duration of the stress is sufficiently long, the body eventually enters a stage of exhaustion, a sort of aging “due to wear and tear.”
Modern research on stress began with observations that many physical illnesses, termed psychosomatic disorders, were partially caused by psychological factors. The most common psychosomatic disorders are ulcers, hypertension(high blood pressure), migraine headaches, and various skin ailments. For example, an executive may understand that her ulcer is aggravated ‘by worrying’ although worry itself must be physically processed to create her symptoms.
In the late 1930s the Canadian physiologist Hans Selye discovered a pattern of physical symptoms emerging among animals subjected to a variety of stressors. Regardless of the nature of the stress — whether injection of a mild irritant or subjection to extreme cold — the animals showed the sighs of excessive endocrine activity and gastric ulceration. Selye’s research led to identification of the general adaptation syndrome (G.A.S).
Selye’s work suggested that the psychophysical connection in psychosomatic disease was stress and the body’s response to it. In his research with animals, Selye identified three stages of a general adaptation syndrome, a physiological and psychological pattern of symptoms in the wake of a stressor event. These three stages are termed alarm, resistance and exhaustion.
1. The Alarm Stage
In the alarm stage, an event is interpreted as a stressor and bodily reactions are triggered. Alarm involves two phases, shock and countershock.
During the first phase of alarm, the shock phase, signals from the brain(the cortex and hypothalamus) initiate the activity of the adrenal glands. The adrenal medulla secretes adrenaline directly into the bloodstream. The effect of adrenaline is heightened heart rate and respiration, as well as other consequences of sympathetic nervous activity.
A ‘backup’ response is initiated by hypothalamic stimulation of the pituitary gland, which begins a sequence of hormonal messages to the adrenal cortex. The adrenal cortex produces corticosteroids, hormones which energize striated muscle strength and endurance. Steroid effects are visible in one’s ability to continue running from danger even after the initial adrenaline rush, as well as in the shakiness and weak-kneed sensation that can follow a stressful or frightening experience.
The second phase, countershock, restores and conserves physical energy through rapid response of the parasympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system. For example, on first seeing a threatening situation, a person in shock will gasp, experience a rapid heart rate, and react reflexively(shock). Soon thereafter she may feel faint as her body reacts to the sudden expenditure of energy(countershock).
During the second stage, resistance, physical defenses are employed in response to the threat identified in the alarm stage. The activity of the sympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system takes the form of ‘fight or flight’.
If the threat can be attacked(‘fight’), rsources will be directed to the upper body, and the individual will strike and dodge.
If the threat can be escaped(‘flight’), energy and strength (in the form of increase blood supply and muscle tension) will be channeled to the lower-body muscles, and the threatened individual will run.
If the threat is more subtle, like increasing cold, one’s resistance will be as subtle as piloerection(body hairs rising to create some insulation) and shivering(which keeps the body moving and circulation active).
Resistance then can take the forms of both physical reflexes and behavioural reactions.
In most experiences of stress, resistance strategies will succeed in solving the problem. The cold person will stay alive and awake long enough to find shelter. The person who is attacked will escape or defend herself.
However, if resistance fails to reduce the stressor(if one continues to interpret events as requiring adaptation), one enters the third stage, exhaustion.
In exhaustion, the physical activity begun in the alarm stage begins again. The danger in exhausting is that the body has fewer resources to expend in its weakened state. Continued, unrelieved sympathetic arousal results in the breakdown of the body’s stress response systems. Consequences will take the form of endocrine, vascular, muscular, and gastric illness and symptoms.
Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear not absence of fear. ~ Mark Twain
It is not unusual to feel afraid. It is unusual, however, to hear anyone admit to feeling afraid.
Sometimes we think there are some people who are so cool and calm that they never feel afraid. This may make us think we’re not as good because we know how often we feel afraid.
This is why it is important to think about what courage really is. It is not the absence of fear.
Courage is not letting fear stop us from doing what we need to do.
We might have to get up in front of a group to give a speech. We could give in to our fear and not give the speech, or we could admit our fear to those who love us, and then go ahead and do the best we can.
To go ahead in the face of fear is courage.