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Medicine LibreTexts

3.6: Distress may be destructive to health

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  • Hans Selye’s research that led to the concept of the General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS) demonstrated that stress that is perceived as a threat (distress) may be debilitating if it is continuous. But even “flow” could go on too long and the person would need a break. But "flow" only develops in activities that are freely engaged in. Negative stress, or distress, is often part of activities that we perceive we cannot escape. Our bodies and minds seem to have evolved to cope well with sudden and brief stressors, such as escaping attack by a predator. We do not seem to be designed to handle chronic stress even if it is mild, like driving in heavy traffic. Our society has created many conditions that produce chronic stress and are associated with stress related illnesses. We have time pressures, work pressures, relationship pressures, crowding, noise, crime, to many things to do in too little time, achievement pressures, and even education-related pressures in this course. It is this detrimental effect of ongoing stress that underlies the GAS and the concepts of stressinduced health problems.