What Is General Adaptation Syndrome?
General adaptation syndrome (GAS) is a condition where individuals experience symptoms similar to those of depression or anxiety disorders but without any known underlying cause. GAS is often misdiagnosed as bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, OCD, ADHD or even post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). However, there are no proven biological markers for GAS and it does not have any specific treatment options.
Symptoms of GAS include:
Depression and sadness. Depression may lead to suicidal thoughts or behavior. Some people with GAS also experience panic attacks. Panic attacks are sudden episodes of intense fear, worry and nervousness which occur suddenly and last only a few minutes.
They usually begin abruptly, don’t last long and then pass within a few hours or days without recurrence. People with GAS may also experience irritability, anger outbursts, difficulty concentrating and trouble sleeping.
Suicide ideations. Individuals with GAS may attempt suicide at some point in their lives. Most attempts are unsuccessful but they do happen. Suicide is never the answer to problems and it will most likely result in further suffering for the individual if successful.
If you think someone might be having suicidal thoughts or feelings please call your local emergency number immediately!
Anxiety and worry. This may lead to compulsive behaviors like frequently washing hands, locking and unlocking doors a certain number of times or even avoiding situations which cause anxiety. For some people it can be worst, leading to isolation and seclusion from friends and family which only worsens their problems.
Stress is bad for everyone and can have an especially negative impact on those with GAS. It may manifest itself in physical exhaustion, muscle tension, stomach aches, headaches and many other symptoms.
Headaches, stomach aches and muscle tension are also very common in people with GAS. It is important to get enough sleep, exercise at least twice a week and maintain a healthy diet if you suffer from GAS.
People with GAS are often misdiagnosed as having bipolar disorder or depression and are given prescription antidepressants which only serve to worsen their problems. Antidepressants should not be given to anyone with GAS because they can cause suicidal thoughts or behavior and may trigger a heart attack, stroke or irreversible brain damage.
If you suffer from GAS you may suffer from several of the above problems and you may also suffer from other symptoms like irritability, anger, jumpiness and restlessness. If you have any of these symptoms do not take an antidepressant under any circumstances!
What causes General Adaptation Syndrome?
The causes of GAS are poorly understood but it is thought to be caused by biological, environmental and psychological factors. It is not yet recognized by the DSM-V and is not part of standard psychiatric screening. Many doctors don’t properly diagnose or treat this condition which can lead to irreversible organ damage or death.
Stress can come from many sources, including relationships. Unstable relationships can cause both short and long term stress. However, divorce is not an option for everyone. If you are in an unstable or nonexistant relationship, it is important to seek help.
Your local church may be able to provide marriage counseling or family counseling.
Insufficient exercise is another common cause of GAS. Humans evolved to move around a lot and it is important to get exercise daily. This may seem difficult but it need not take up much of your time. Walking or running for twenty minutes a day is enough to keep you healthy.
If you are unable to leave your house or apartment you can work out in your room with elastic bands or weights (Though it is recommended to consult a medical professional before beginning any new exercise regimen). If this is not an option a brisk walk around the block once or twice a day can provide much needed exercise.
Additionally, it is important to get a full night’s rest. Sleep experts recommend between 7 and 9 hours of sleep every night for adults. A regular sleep cycle will also help you wake up feeling refreshed and energized. This may initially feel like a chore but it will pay off in the long run.
Another risk factor for GAS is having an unhealthy or irregular diet. It is important to eat a balanced diet. Please refer to the food pyramid when choosing what and how much you should eat.
The final risk factor for GAS is the media. Watching violent or graphic films can cause unnecessary tension and psychological trauma. Gambling excessively and engaging in other forms of risky or illegal behavior also increase your chances of developing GAS.
A holistic approach to mental health is the best way to avoid GAS. Practicing stress relief techniques such as yoga, meditation and breathing exercises can help you keep your cool in difficult situations.
How to treat General Adaptation Syndrome.
Most cases of GAS are easily treated with a change in lifestyle. Please refer to the symptoms section to determine what changes you need to make. If your case is more serious or if you do not see an improvement in your condition within six months, you should seek professional help from a psychiatrist or clinical psychologist.
A change in medication and therapy is usually all that is needed to reverse the effects of GAS. The sooner you seek treatment, the less damage will be done.
If you do not feel comfortable seeking help from a psychiatrist or psychologist, you can always go see your primary physician. Your physician should still be able to refer you to a psychiatrist or recommend a different treatment plan.
GAS can be a serious condition if left untreated. Please seek help if you feel you need it.
General Adaptation Syndrome can be a serious condition if left untreated and can lead to other illnesses and conditions. Please seek help from a physician or mental health care professional if you feel you may have it.
Inability to adapt to new situations
Loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed
Loss of motivation
Crying spells for no reason
Feeling hopeless about your situation
Feeling trapped or stuck and unable to figure out how to change your life
Disturbed sleep (insomnia or having nightmares)
Decreased interest in sexual activity
Decreased interest in activities you once enjoyed
Decreased productivity at work or school
Withdrawing from friends and family
Difficulty learning and concentrating
Withdrawing from activities you once enjoyed
Loss of motivation
Restless sleep (insomnia or waking up early and not being able to fall back asleep)
Weakening of immune system
Decreased sexual desire
Tingling or numbness in body
Light headed feeling
Difficulty with vision (blurring or seeing double)
Allergies (new or exacerbated allergies)
Increase in aggressive behavior
Loss of interest in or inability to experience pleasure
Severe mood swings
Thoughts of suicide or suicide attempts
The first step in treating GAS is to identify the stressor(s). Once you have identified the cause, you can begin to come up with a plan to either eliminate the cause or find a way to cope with it. You may want to write down both the stressor and the coping strategies you come up with. You may also want to seek professional help in treating your condition.
The following are some common ways to treat GAS:
Avoidance/Avoidant – This is a strategy where you simply try to avoid or eliminate the source of your stress entirely. For example, if you are stressed out about school, you could drop out and pursue a different path in life. Once again, this is not a recommended strategy because without getting your degree, you will not have the opportunities that YOU desire.
One positive outcome of this strategy is that it can alleviate feelings of helplessness and hopelessness in some people. This may ultimately result in an increase in self-efficacy which is a good thing.
Another positive outcome of this strategy is that some people are able to find new challenges and sources of mastery which they enjoy more than the ones they were avoiding.
Sources & references used in this article:
Stress and the general adaptation syndrome by H Selye – British medical journal, 1950 – ncbi.nlm.nih.gov
The general adaptation syndrome and the diseases of adaptation by H Selye – The journal of clinical endocrinology, 1946 – academic.oup.com
The general-adaptation-syndrome by H Selye – Annual review of medicine, 1951 – annualreviews.org
The general adaptation syndrome: a foundation for the concept of periodization by AJ Cunanan, BH DeWeese, JP Wagle, KM Carroll… – Sports Medicine, 2018 – Springer
The general adaptation syndrome and the diseases of adaptation by H Selye – The American Journal of Medicine, 1951 – amjmed.com