The total mobilization of the organism’s resources in meeting situations of excessive stressThe concept grew out of Hans Selye’s research on endocrine secretions in animals subjected to various stress conditions. He found that the body has three levels of defense. In the first stage, which is termed alarm-reaction, the body’s defense forces are quickly called up by pituitary-adrenal secretions, which produce an increase in heart rate, bood sugar, and muscle tone, as well as general alertness. In the stage of resistance, further reactions take place that enable the organism to repair damage and sustain continued stress. These new defenses are brought into play largely by secretions from the adrenal cortex (corticoids). In the final stage of exhaustion, the hormone defenses and protective reactions break down, and further exposure to stress may lead to disintegration or death. Selye (1956) believes that many of the human “diseases of adaptation,” including hypertension, arthritis, and peptic ulcer, are due to the excessive use of the body’s defense system during long-continued stress (PLATE 3). Today this is considered one of the major explanations for psychophysiologic, or psychosomatic, disorders.The general adaptation syndrome suggests a parallel between psychological and biological defenses. Prolonged psychological stress tends to produce reactions that also follow a three-stage pattern. First comes alarm and mobilization, in which the individual becomes emotionally aroused, tense and alert, and calls upon psychological defense mechanisms and self-control in order to meet the danger. At the same time he may show some failure in adaptation by developing feelings of anxiety, aches and pains, or lowered efficiency. In the second stage, new defenses are brought into play, such as blaming others and denying that the problem exists. If these defenses are inadequate, neurotic patterns may gradually be introduced. He may then develop obsessions, compulsions, conversion symptoms or psychosomatic reactions. In rare cases these defenses may also prove insufficient, and psychotic reactions such as delusions may be adopted in order to reconstruct reality itself to conform to psychological needs. If these psychotic defenses are employed for a long period, he may reach the stage of exhaustion, in which the ego itself disintegrates, and a stage of disorganized activity or stupor sets in (Coleman, 1964).

Cite this page: N., Sam M.S., "GENERAL ADAPTATION SYNDROME," in, November 28, 2018, (accessed August 12, 2022).


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