What Are the Three Stages of General Adaptation Syndrome?

Medically Reviewed on 11/2/2021

3 stages of GAS

general adaptation syndrome

The three stages of general adaptation syndrome include the alarm stage, resistance stage, and exhaustion stage. Learn the three stages of GAS below.

General adaptation syndrome is a universal and predictable response pattern to all stressors, whether they are good (referred to as eustress) or bad (referred to as stress), called distress.

It consists of the following three-stage physiological response of an organism to severe stress.

Stage I: Alarm reaction

The body is prepared for quick fight or flight responses.

  • Any kind of physical or emotional trauma will set off a chain reaction of stress responses. Normal levels of resistance are reduced because the immune system is suppressed at first, making us more vulnerable to infection and disease. This stage includes both shock and counter-shock phases.
  • Several organ systems undergo significant changes during the shock phase. The blood flow is diverted to the lungs, heart, and brain at the expense of gastrointestinal blood flow and blood flow to the skin.

Stage II: Resistance

If a stressor persists, the release of stress hormones from the pituitary gland and adrenal cortex increases, and the first-stage alarm symptoms subside, giving the appearance of a return to physiological normal functioning.

  • We adapt to stress over time, often quickly. As a result, we become more resistant to illness and disease. Our immune system works overtime to keep up with the demands placed on it at this time.
  • We become oblivious to our surroundings and believe that we can withstand the consequences of stress indefinitely.
  • This is where the danger lies. We typically do nothing in response to stress because we believe we are immune to its effects.
  • If the resistance stage lasts too long, the body will remain on high alert and continue to produce stress hormones.
  • The following are symptoms of the resistance stage:
    • Irritability
    • Frustration
    • Poor concentration

Stage III: Exhaustion

If the stressor lasts longer than the body's defenses can handle, the internal environment of the body (homeostatic milieu) is disturbed. Blood pressure remains high, sugar levels increase and there are ulcers in the gastrointestinal lining. Although no two people have the same level of stress resistance and tolerance, everyone's immunity eventually breaks down as a result of chronic stress reactions.

  • Researchers refer to this as a disease of adaptation because it causes life-sustaining mechanisms to slow down, organ systems to fail, and our stress-fighting reserves to deplete.
  • The shock phase of alarm reaction is essentially repeated during the exhaustion stage, resulting in:

The primary reason why stress causes so many health problems is thought to be general adaptation syndrome. Stress disrupts our bodies' natural equilibrium (homeostasis) that is essential for our well-being. It can shorten our life span by hastening the aging process.

What is distress?

We are challenged beyond our physical, mental, and emotional resources when we are in distress. According to the American Psychological Association, stress can be either acute or chronic.

Acute stress

  • The most common type of stress is short-term and stems from workplace/social demands and pressures, as well as anticipated future demands and pressures.

Chronic stress

Long-term stress is caused by unending feelings of despair/hopelessness caused by factors such as:

  • Poverty
  • Family dysfunction
  • Feelings of helplessness and/or traumatic early childhood experiences
  • Perceived discrimination
  • Neighborhood stress
  • Daily stress
  • Family stress
  • Acculturative stress
  • Environmental stress
  • Maternal stress

All chronic stressors are associated with health disparities.

How can I prevent general adaptation syndrome exhaustion?

There is no quick fix for managing stress, and no method is universally effective. However, there are some simple changes you can make to manage stress levels in your life. A few examples include techniques for relaxation, walking, exercise, and having a positive conversation with someone close to you.

  • Walking, yoga, exercises, and swimming have all been demonstrated to relieve stress by assisting the release of positive stress-busting endorphins in the brain, which can enhance self-confidence and alleviate anxiety and depression symptoms.
  • Stress alleviation can be achieved by eating a nutritious whole-food diet rich in dark greens and chlorophyll-containing foods and engaging in frequent physical activity.
  • Because chronic stress can deplete your body of key B vitamins, magnesium, and calcium, obtaining these nutrients through food or supplementation is critical.
  • Caffeine and sugar should be consumed in moderation because these stimulants can contribute to stress and sadness.
  • Stress can physically fatigue your body, and if you don't get enough sleep, you'll feel the effects of stress even more.
  • Learn new ways of thinking to help reduce stress. Knowing when to let go and thinking positively about your life will keep you from becoming stressed.
  • To offset the stress response, you can use breathing control exercises to engage your parasympathetic nervous system, which will help you relax. Deep breathing exercises are designed to draw your attention to your breathing, slowing it down, and making it deeper.
  • Positive physical touch boosts oxytocin production while lowering cortisol levels. As a result, blood pressure, heart rate, stress, and anxiety are all reduced. Hug your family and loved ones.
  • Meditation is a technique for training the body's natural therapeutic relaxation response. People who learn to meditate say that they are less affected by pain or stress.

Controlling your thoughts is only half the battle; if you work on reducing stress by a healthy lifestyle and dietary changes, you can avoid growing stress-related disorders.

A professional can help you cope with stress by developing solutions that are tailored to your specific circumstances and personality. Don't wait until your mental health and quality of life are in peril to see a psychologist.


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Medically Reviewed on 11/2/2021
Image Source: iStock Images

General adaptation syndrome (GAS): https://www.med.muni.cz/patfyz/pdf/new/adapt_sy_a.pdf



The Stress Response: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/216507998002801202