According to Selye, the stress response is the body’s “non-specific reaction to demands made to its internal equilibrium.”
He eloquently explained his stress model, based on physiology and psychobiology, as the General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS), stating that an event that threatens an organism’s well being, a stressor, leads to a three-stage bodily response:
Stages of GAS
(my overview and interpretation)
Our alarm (fight/flight) response is triggered whenever we encounter a threat to our well being, real or perceived. It does not matter what the stressor is the body reacts in the same way.
Stressors can be physical (e.g. injury, illness, infection,) social, psychological, toxicant, chemical or stimulus (e.g. hot, cold, noise, other).
During fight/flight, we becomes injury ready and we become pumped and ready to run or fight. Changes occur throughout the body and in the mind, and we can experience heightened senses and symptoms like an elevatated heart rate, nervousness/anxiety, and an increased energy (that is, if our internal resources are not exhausted).
Once the stressor subsides, most people enter a phase of relaxation and recovery. Allowing the body to restore balance (homeostasis). This may not occur if we have become very exhausted and depleted!
Relaxation and recovery usually occurs quicker when we are taking good care of ourselves.
Taking good care of ourselves is sometimes referred to as self-management. It involves
- Making sure we are getting enough sleep
- Eating a balanced healthy diet (or other as needed for the management of a health condition)
- Exercising regularly (or as able given health concerns)
- Managing anxiety, stressful thoughts and situations.
- Getting medical care when needed (for injury, infection, illness and other e.g. allergies, depression)
- Managing our exposures to toxicants (drugs, alcohol, chemicals,pollutants) and stimuli (e.g. temperature, noise)
The funny thing about this stage is that initially our body and immune system become more resistance to stress and disease.
However, this stage requires abnormally high levels of emotional and physical resources, and can impact our core functions like digestion, detoxification, energy making and the rate and which we recover and heal. If things do not change for the better then the next stage of the GAS process is inevitable.
If the stressor or stressors continue beyond the body’s capacity, things start to become quite dysregulated and normal adaptive process start to break down. Exhaustion and fatigue sets in ad we experinece unpleasant symptoms: physical, emotional and mental. If ongoing it can lead to disease, and when very severe or ongoing for long time even death.
The list according to Seyle include the following. This list also has been observed by allergist, and environmental doctors (though different routes and understandings)
- General irritability, hyper-excitation or depression
- Pounding of the heart
- Dryness of the throat and mouth
- Impulsive behavior, emotional instability
- The overpowering urge to cry or run and hide
- Inability to concentrate
- Feeling of unreality, weakness or dizziness
- Predilection to become fatigued and loss of joie do vivre
- ‘Floating anxiety’ – afraid but not knowing what causes the fear
- Emotional tension and alertness, feelings of being ‘keyed up’
- Trembling, nervous tics
- Tendency to be easily startled by small sounds, etc.
- High-pitched, nervous laughter
- Stuttering and other speech difficulties which are frequently stress-induced
- Bruxism, or grinding of the teeth
- Insomnia, usually a consequence of being ‘keyed up’
- Hypermotility (technically known as hyperkinesias), the inability to relax
- The frequent need to urinate
- Disturbed gastrointestinal function – diarrhoea, indigestion, queasiness in the stomach and sometimes even vomiting, irritable bowel
- Migraine headaches
- Premenstrual tension or missed menstrual cycles
- Pain in the neck or lower back
- Loss of or excessive appetite
- Increased smoking
- Increased use of legally prescribed drugs, such as tranquilizers or amphetamines
- Alcohol and drug addiction
- Neurotic behaviour
- Accident proneness
Symptoms can be mild or severe. It depends on the stressor and how long our Chronic Stressor Load has been high. Unfortunately when we are exhausted we also become more stressor sensitive (sensory, food, other). Recent research (like that by biochemist Martin Pall) indicates that this may make us more susceptible to becoming stuck on self perpetuating Chronic Fatigue and Stressor Sensitivity loop, and developing CSS / neuroimmune dysregulation disorder like fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome and related.
When the Chronic Fatigue and Stressor Sensitivity Loop is more severe we may experience a very wide range of environmental (chemical, pathogen, and stimuli) hypersensitivities. Alterations to our immune T cells (1)/ Mast cells may have occurred.
At this stage, standard medications, stress therapies and self management may not be enough to restore the relaxation and recovery response. We may also need to REST, (have regular rest and relaxation) breaks, REDUCE sensory, food, pollutant and other triggers, and PACE daily activities mental, physical, emotional, in order to reduce symptoms, conserve energy and internal resources, and build up reserves for recovery.
Characterisation of cell functions and receptors in Chronic Fatigue Syndrome/Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (CFS/ME) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4450981/