General Adaptation Syndrome and Stress


General adaptation syndrome (GAS) is a theory that describes the physiological changes the body experiences when under stress. The syndrome includes three stages: the alarm stage, the resistance stage, and the exhaustion stage.

The alarm stage

The first GAS stage contains two substages:

  • In the shock phase, body temperature and blood pressure both decrease. Loss of fluid from body tissues also occurs.
  • In the countershock phase, the body’s fight-or-flight response is triggered. Heart rate and blood pressure increase as stress hormones and adrenaline are released.

The resistance stage

Following the alarm stage, the body begins to repair itself. If the stressful situation is resolved, the body continues to repair itself until it returns to its pre-stress state. If the stressful situation is not resolved, the body remains on high alert, eventually adapting to the higher stress level. Stress hormones and blood pressure remain elevated. This can lead to hypertension and heart problems as well as irritability, frustration, and poor concentration.

The exhaustion stage

This stage occurs during prolonged or chronic stress when the body’s adaptation to higher stress levels starts to break down. The body no longer has the strength or resources to fight the stress. Signs of the exhaustion stage include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Trouble sleeping
  • Severe loss of concentration
  • Fatigue
  • Depressed mood
  • Trembling or jumpiness
  • Anxiety attacks
  • Crying spells
  • Stress-related illnesses

For short-term or mild stressors, the alarm stage is not harmful. It is a natural mechanism that is designed to protect the body from danger. However, when prolonged or chronic stress is experienced, the body may not be able to repair itself in a timely manner, which can lead to the exhaustion stage.

Understanding the stages of GAS can help with the identification of personal stress signals, which can help with the reduction of stress levels.