By Rachel Chung
Have you ever found that many people seem to catch a cold right after an important exam? This is not a coincidence. In fact, there is a lot of scientific evidence supporting this phenomenon, which is called General Adaptation Syndrome. This syndrome is a response pattern that our body uses to react to stressful events.
3 Stages of General Adaptation Syndrome(GAS)
In Hans Selye’s General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS) theory, he describes the general response humans have when stressful events occur. Our body has a consistent response pattern to physical and emotional stresses. The pattern involves three stages: alarm reaction, resistance, and exhaustion.
1. Alarm Reaction
When we know the stressful event is coming up, our body goes through an alarm reaction. Our body activates the sympathetic nervous system. The sympathetic nervous system delivers messages to the organs, glands, and muscles’ control systems, directing our body’s response to stress. This system accelerates heart rate and reduces blood flow from other parts of the body to allow muscles to react quickly. At the same time, this system also conserves energy for later steps by slowing down other bodily functions.
Next, when preparing for stressful events, our body goes through the resistance stage. In the resistance stage, the body maintains an increased heart rate to be physiologically ready to meet the stress. Then, the body releases hormones to maintain this state of readiness. The body starts to deplete its resources if this stage prolonged.
Finally, when we get through a stressful event, our body undergoes the exhaustion stage. In the exhaustion stage, the parasympathetic nervous system delivers messages to the stress response system. This makes our body slow down after a stressful event and gradually returns our physiological state to normal. Therefore, our body becomes more vulnerable to disease in this stage, as our resources are depleted especially when the resistance stage lasted for a long time.
Selye’s model explains why people tend to contract illnesses when they go through extended periods of stress. Our bodies can maintain their state of readiness only when we have enough resources left. When the resource is eventually depleted, we are vulnerable to disease due to exhaustion. If you often don’t feel well after stressful tasks, I would suggest taking precautions to stay healthy when you are done. Finishing a task successfully and enjoying the feeling of satisfaction afterward may be important. But remember, your health should always come first.