Alarm Stage of Stress: Definition & Explanation

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  • 0:02 What Is GAS?
  • 0:56 Alarm Stage
  • 2:24 Resistance Stage
  • 2:59 Exhaustion Stage
  • 3:27 Good & Bad Stress
  • 4:10 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Vidhi Desai
What would you do if you were walking down a city street and heard gunshots? Would you try to find out who was firing the gun, or would you run the other way? According to endocrinologist Hans Selye, the alarm stage of stress might cause you to run away, a stage we'll explore in this lesson.

What Is General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS)?

General adaptation syndrome, developed by a Hungarian endocrinologist, Hans Selye, is a theory used to explain how we respond to stress. Known as the 'Father of Stress', Hans Selye pioneered and was the first to provide a biological explanation for how we respond to stressful situations. According to Selye: 'Every stress leaves an indelible scar, and the organism pays for its survival after a stressful situation by becoming a little older.'

Hans Selye broke the process down into three separate and sequential stages, including the alarm, resistance and exhaustion stages. Not everyone experiences all three stages, which depends on how long or how often you may be exposed to stress. Let's take a look at what happens to you when you're in the alarm stage.

The Alarm Stage

The alarm stage is also known as the fight or flight response. During the alarm stage, your brain sends an emergency signal to other parts of your body, which lets those parts know that you're in a dangerous situation. As your body mobilizes itself to react, you can choose between a fight or flight response. For example, you'd be choosing the 'fight' response if you heard gunshots on a city street and confronted the shooter. By comparison, you'd be choosing the 'flight' response if you fled the scene, which according to your brain, would most likely be in your best interest.

When you're in the alarm stage, your nervous system is prepared to fight or flight. Your heart starts beating faster, which provides more blood and oxygen to your arms and legs. For instance, if you're behind the driving wheel and the car in front of you suddenly comes to a stop, you'll most likely slam on your breaks. As a result of this close call, you'll also feel your heart beating faster.

Let's look at another scenario: While taking a late night, after-work or after-school jog, a man holding a knife approaches you and demands money. If your brain suggests the fight response, you may try to fight him off and take away his knife. If your brain decides on the flight response, you may give him your money and run away, or just run away. In this case, the brain would probably suggest the flight response, leading your heart to beat faster and more blood to be pumped into your limbs, so you can get away quicker.

The Resistance Stage

If the alarm stage doesn't help you escape from a stressful situation, your body progresses to the next stage, where you remain in an alert stage for a longer time. During the resistance stage, your parasympathetic nervous system tries to return as many of your bodily functions as possible to their pre-stress levels, while focusing bodily resources on the next stressor or threat.

The hormones released during stressful times can damage your cells. If you have no time to recover from the next moment of stress, then your body remains prepared, which can lead to exhaustion.

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