Our response to stress and General Adaptation Syndrome

Our response to stress and General Adaptation Syndrome

The stress response was described by Selye (1983) as a nonspecific response of the organism to the presence of a triggering event that attempts against homeostasis or the organism's balance. This response of the organism to the stressor sustained over time, was named by Selye General Adaptation Syndrome (SGA).


  • 1 The stages of Seyle General Adaptation Syndrome
  • 2 Analyzing stress
  • 3 Stress intervention strategies
  • 4 Strategies to learn to set priorities
  • 5 Rules for effective time planning
  • 6 Difficulties in time management

The stages of Seyle General Adaptation Syndrome

The EMS consists of three distinct stages.

First stage: alarm reaction

This stage produces an initial phase of shock in the presence of the stressor. This response is controlled by the release of adrenaline and ACTH and is characterized by the presence of tachycardia, and the decrease in temperature and blood pressure. Subsequently the bumper phase occurs, which is a phase of defense or reaction to the shock (rebound effect). During this phase, symptoms opposite to shock occur (hypertension, hyperthermia, etc.).

Second stage: resistance

Here there is a organism adaptation to stressor, and the consequent disappearance of the symptoms of the alarm reaction.

Third stage: exhaustion

When the organism remains exposed to the stressor or loses the adaptive capacity acquired during the previous phase, the depletion stage occurs, in which the symptoms of the alarm phase reappear and the severe long-term consequences for the organism.

Therefore, stress can be defined as a process in which the body tries to adapt to a change in its environment, so to understand it properly it is necessary to assess it in its interaction with it.

Analyzing stress

The psychosocial demands

The first element in stress analysis is psychosocial situations or demands. Stressful situations can be classified as vital events (objective experiences that threaten the normal activities of the individual) and minor events (daily stress) These minor events or setbacks include situations such as traffic jams, inclement weather, discussions and social problems, etc. They are events of less impact than the vital events but of greater frequency.

Cognitive evaluation

The second element is the evaluation or cognitive assessment is the process by which the individual gives meaning (in terms of threat to their well-being) to a situation. This assessment is divided into two processes: primary assessment Y secondary assessment.

In the primary assessment the individual determines the potential harm or benefit of the situation (threat; damage or loss, challenge and benefit). In the secondary assessment, the individual values ​​his coping resources and the different options available to him.

A second assessment or process would have to do with the re-evaluationThis is with the feedback processes that take place as the individual faces the situation and observes the results of their behavior on the environment.


The third element is the individual's response to the stressor or coping mode. Coping can be understood as a relatively stable property of the individual (style) or as a process. There are four basic styles or modes of coping:

  1. Rigid guard, characterized by the tendency to seek information about the stressor in advance (they are stressed mainly by uncertainty);
  2. Rigid avoider: tends to pay little attention to the threatening characteristics of the stressor due to the discomfort they generate;
  3. Flexible, faced with a threat situation they tolerate uncertainty and emotional activation, present a clear orientation to the problem and a flexible use of coping strategies;
  4. Inconsistent, they are stressed both by uncertainty and emotional activation, when they move away from the stressor to avoid uncertainty, emotional activation appears and to avoid this approach the stressor which creates uncertainty again.

On the other hand, the conception of coping as a process implies:

  1. that coping is independent of outcome and context dependent, and therefore, there are no universally effective strategies;
  2. that coping depends on the evaluation of the possibilities of control or influence on the stressor, determining two general types of coping (emotion-oriented and problem-oriented).

As for coping methods, these attempts have been classified according to three dimensions:

  1. focus (on the problem vs. on the emotion);
  2. method (active vs. avoidance) and
  3. nature of the response (behavioral vs. cognitive).

There are also other factors such as social support, dispositional variables such as hardiness, term that refers to hardness or resistance to stress. It is a pattern of behavior is characterized by optimism, sense of humor, sociability and self esteem, and is a potential health variable. On the other hand, the Type A pattern (hostility, cynicism, alexitima) and Type C (repressor and with motivation to achieve) that would be associated with the disease. All these factors would have a modulating effect on stress reactions or responses, and these may occur both at the physiological level (e.g., cardiovascular, metabolic, immunological) and at the psychological level (e.g., worry, hopelessness and denial) and motor (e.g. ., substance use, aggressiveness).

Stress intervention strategies

The intervention on the process and the symptoms of stress can be considered in a continuum from strategies aimed at prevention of its appearance (preventive strategies) until strategies aimed at controlling or coping with stressful situations (combative strategies).

Preventive strategies

The preventive intervention strategy would be constituted by the procedures of Stress inoculation, characterized by learning certain skills together with controlled exposure to less intense stressors. The goal is for the person to be able to respond with the strategies acquired in real situations.

Combative strategies

On the other hand, strategies aimed at the control, regulation or adequate coping with stress are based on the training in problem solving and decision making skills, interpersonal skills (assertiveness), activation control skills and time management skills. As a common ingredient in most intervention programs, training in cognitive restructuring.

In general, the most important components of a stress management program are:

  1. Programming of rewarding activities;
  2. Goal setting and time management;
  3. Cognitive control (restructuring and worry control processes);
  4. Activation Control
  5. Changes in lifestyle (diet, exercise, sleep patterns).

The establishment of goals and objectives is a central element in stress management programs. Both problem-solving strategies, as well as cognitive restructuring, and time management are supported in one way or another in an adequate process of setting priorities and goals. The first step is to clarify the most important values. Having our priorities clear has an important motivational effect and facilitates decision making.

Strategies to learn to set priorities

Set priorities

  • With your eyes closed, take a deep breath and relax. Imagine that you are somewhere quiet where you can sit and think. Imagine that you are in a very distant future, and that you have lived a satisfying life. Describe from that perspective what you liked most to live or experience.
  • Now imagine that you have been diagnosed with a lethal disease. The doctor says you have 6 years left to live. Think about how you would invest your time, what things you would do, what goals you would like to achieve and what things you would like to have in those last 6 months.

Compare the answers you have given in both situations and try to sort your values ​​(eg, family, economic security, health, friends, travel, etc.).

Set your goals

It's about translating your values ​​into specific and attainable goals or objectives. To set effective goals ask yourself the following five questions:

  1. Is it a goal for which you really are willing to invest time and effort, or is it just a dream you don't want to strive for?
  2. Is it consistent with your most important values?
  3. Is it an attainable goal?
  4. Is it defined in positive, as something to be achieved, not as something to avoid?
  5. Are your goals well distributed in your different values? When this does not happen, stress reactions are likely to appear. If we invest a lot of time and effort in one area, neglecting the rest, we are likely to feel stressed.

Balance your goals

Think of a reasonable number of long, medium and short term goals. Look for short and medium term goals to be compatible with your long term goals.

Periodically evaluate your values ​​and objectives

As you act to achieve them, changes in your priorities may occur.

Prepare an action plan

For an action plan to be effective, you must include a specific goal, a precise description of the resources it will entail and how to achieve them, a sequence of action, how to assess progress, possible difficulties you may encounter and how to deal with them and the rewards that You will manage to comply. To design the plan use one of these two strategies:

  • Imagine that you have already reached your goal. Think about how you feel, what you do, etc., and see you going back in time to know what steps you were taking.
  • Write the goal and think a large number of possible ways to achieve it (brainstorming).

Time management consists in making efficient use of our resources, especially time, so that we are effective in achieving our personal goals. Proper time management is one of the most important coping strategies in order to minimize the negative effects of stress. Effective time management reduces the levels of subjective stress and allows the creation of greater opportunities for leisure. Bad time management is associated with dispositional problems such as the Type A behavior pattern.

Rules for effective time planning

Make a list of pending tasks.

Write everything you think you should do, use a list for working life and another for private life. Is a dynamic list, every day you will delete some elements and add others.

Select those things you really have to do.

Clearly define the problems or objectives for which the noted tasks arise. Forget about the unattainable, be realistic. Then evaluate the usefulness of each task for that purpose. Exercise your right to say NO, when they entrust you with tasks that you think you should not assume.

Define priority levels


  • Term. The deadlines can be more or less precise and more or less realistic. Try to specify the loosely established deadlines and try to negotiate and be assertive with the unrealistic.
  • Duration. Very short tasks (<1 minute) are useful for occupying dead or waiting times or periods in which we are very likely to be interrupted; Short assignments (<5 minutes) must be scheduled for periods when we are unlikely to be interrupted; long tasks (up to 2 hours) must be scheduled in periods when it is unlikely to be interrupted, and also take the necessary measures so that this does not occur (eg, close the door, divert calls, etc.)
  • Importance. Ask yourself, "Does this task bring me closer to my goals? What happens if I don't do it? Does the work of others depend on this task? Would I do it if I had to be absent for a month?"

Define the expected result for each task according to the objectives you set for yourself.

Plan the next day: be realistic, “volunteer” and forget about the customs that interfere with your planning. Plan specific periods for distractions (eg phone calls, visits, etc.).

Do one task at a time and focus on the here and now while you are doing it

If you have a large number of pending tasks in your head or new ones appear while you do the one you had scheduled, write them down.

Difficulties in time management

One of the main barriers to effective time management is procrastination or procrastination This behavior consists in systematically postponing pending tasks, because they are considered difficult or unpleasant. There are three main strategies to overcome this trend: a) systematically start with the most difficult tasks; b) break down the task into smaller and more affordable units; and c) use the control of stimuli and avoid distractions that allow to initiate behaviors of greater immediate pleasure.

Another of the barriers to proper time management are the behavioral inhibitory thoughts (ICT, task inhibiting cognitions). These thoughts generate negative emotions that usually lead to avoidance or postponement behaviors and / or to the conduct of distracting behaviors that in the long term generate discomfort and frustration. The main strategy to overcome these thoughts is to restructure them by means of the “yes but…” formula, transforming these thoughts into task-oriented alternatives (TOC, Task oriented cognitions). The TIC-TOC method consists in never stopping the procedure in an “ICT”.

A frequent example is the work stress. The main triggers of work stress are:

  1. working conditions (overload, boredom, excess responsibility, physical risk, schedules);
  2. role stress (ambiguity or bad definition, stereotypes, harassment);
  3. interpersonal factors (envy, anger, etc.);
  4. Progress in the profession (occupy a position below their possibilities);
  5. Organizational structure,
  6. bad work-family conciliation.

The main symptoms are the anxiety, muscle tension, confusion and irritability, feelings of frustration, anger, resentment, depression and isolation, dissatisfaction, loss of concentration and creativity. On a physical level, gastric, skin, ulcers, cardiovascular problems, etc. may appear. Regarding the behavioral level, postponement or procrastination behaviors usually appear (procrastination), performance deterioration, substance use, risk behavior, gambling, deterioration of social relations, etc. When work stress is chronic it is called “burnout”.

To address these problems the main strategies are:

  1. Schedule rewarding activities;
  2. Increase physical exercise and change eating habits;
  3. Cognitive restructuring of defeatist and hopeless thoughts,
  4. Clear separation of personal and work life.


Avia, M. D. (1990). Cognitive and self-control techniques. In J.Mayor & F. J. Labrador (Eds.), Manual of Behavior Modification Techniques (pp. 330-360). Madrid: Alhambra.

D'Zurilla, T. J., Nezu, A. M., & Maydeu-Olivares, A. (2004). Social Problem Solving: Theory and Assessment. In E.C. Chang, T. J. D'Zurilla, & L. J. Sanna (Eds.), Social Problem Solving: Theory, Research and Training (pp. 11-28). Washington: APA.

Muñoz, M. (2001). Workouts in stress inoculation. Madrid: Synthesis.


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