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The Man Behind the Buzz: Hans Selye

It is hard to believe that Hans Selye coined the word 'stress', a word with such hype and modern day buzz, only 50 years ago.

Dr. Hans Selye, M.D, Ph.D. (1907-1982) is credited as the father of modern day stress reaction theories.

In 1956, he published The Stress of Life and defined stress as "the non-specific response of the body to any demand made upon it, whether it is caused by, or results in, pleasant, or unpleasant conditions".

Hans Selye also coined a number of unique terms:

  1. Stressor: referring to the traumatic event that acted on the mind as well as the physical body.
  2. General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS): referring to three distinct stages of the stress reaction; Alarm, Resistance and Exhaustion.
  3. Eustress: referring to stresses that we feel good about.
  4. Distress: referring to stresses that cause us feelings of upset.
  5. The important thing to understand, however, is that both eustress and distress activate our GAS system. The impact of the stress is only a matter of mental perceptio . It is your level of acceptance of the stress that will determine the level of damage caused by the stressor itself.

    (Photo compliments of

    General Adaptive Syndrome: Are you running out of GAS?

    Hans Selye brilliantly outlined how these three GAS stages are associated with changes in stress hormone patterns in the body, as well as the gradual depletion of the body's energy resources.

    (Photo compliments of

    Literally, the longer we hang out with the stressful situation, the body slowly runs out of 'gas'.

    In the Alarm stage, Dr. Hans Selye explains that the body recognizes there is a threat to survival. This is where we experience the fight or flight response. The typical example of the cave man choosing to either run (flee) from his predator or stand up and fight. Whatever the choice or the outcome was irrelevant to our body; either way, the stressful situation would be dealt with in a matter of minutes and we could move on.

    In fact, the fight or flight responseis very useful for our growth and expansion in life. It allows us to learn and live through productivity and peak performance (see the green component of the graph below).

    At the level of eustress, we are faced with a challenge, we make a choice and we live with the consequences. Period. End of Story.

    It really can be this simple if we allow it. But can we?

    Not usually. Today, we are faced with increasingly stressful situations; ones that do not resolve quickly. We are forced to move into what Hans Selye coined the Resistance Stage, where our body attempts to adapt to or cope with a challenging situation.

    The longer we have to cope with a situation, the more resources it demands on our body. Eventually we feel the effects of fatigue.

    As we enter the third stage of GAS, we are beyond fatigue and moving into Exhaustion. The stressor has persisted too long for our body to adapt. We are in Chronic Stress and burnout mode. Most of us can relate to job burnout, but by no means is this the only way we burn out.

    Our immune system is the first to go. We are now dealing with long term damage and stress related illness.

    Where does this leave us?

    It is one thing to understand stress, but it is another to apply our knowledge.

    If we think of stress as an external threat, then to reduce stress we must change the outside world.


    It is my goal to help you change your internal world. Engage your internal resources and empower you to create powerful coping and adaptation mechanisms so that you never run out of GAS again!

    This means reducing our stress through healthy living tips, understanding the mind-body connection and implementing Stress Reducers. Keep reading, keep growing and reclaim your birthright to be happy!

    Yours In Wellness,

    Dr. Lisa

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