The Stress response "Fight or Flight" and the General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS)

The Fight or Flight Response

Walter Cannon identified the "fight or flight" response as early as 1932. It's a basic, short-term survival response, which is triggered when we experience a shock, or when we see something that we perceive as a threat.

Our brains then release stress hormones that prepare the body to either "fly" from the threat, or "fight" it. This energizes us, but it also makes us excitable, anxious, and irritable.

The problem with the fight or flight response is that, although it helps us deal with life-threatening events, we can also experience it in everyday situations – for example, when we have to work to short deadlines, when we speak in public, or when we experience conflict with others.

In these types of situations, a calm, rational, controlled, and socially-sensitive approach is often more appropriate.

General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS)

GAS, which Hans Selye identified in 1950, is a response to long-term exposure to stress.

Selye found that we cope with stress in three distinct phases:

  1. The alarm phase, where we react to the stressor.
  2. The resistance phase, where we adapt to, and cope with, the stressor. The body can't keep up resistance indefinitely, so our physical and emotional resources are gradually depleted.
  3. The exhaustion phase, where, eventually, we're "worn down" and we cannot function normally.

Fight or flight and GAS are actually linked – the exhaustion phase of GAS comes from an accumulation of very many fight or flight responses, over a long period of time.

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