Research that Changed Research: General Adaptation Syndrome

When we face immediate danger, our bodies go through a physiological reaction to help us handle stress very quickly. This reaction is known as your “fight or flight” stress response. The stress response not only increases your heart rate and blood pressure, but also slows down digestion, growth, and reproduction while it numbs pain and suppresses the immune system. Evolutionarily, these adaptations were a good thing – they helped us run away from lions! However, the stressors we face nowadays are seldom the type that require a literal “fight or flight” (when is the last time a saber-tooth tiger was chasing after you?). Chronic stress more often comes in heavy workloads, time management, and money struggles, so what happens to our bodies when we have a physiological stress response to these types of stressors?

Hans Selye, M.D., Ph.D. (1907-1982) introduced the General Adaption Syndrome (G. A. S.) concept to explain the three stages of interrelated adaptive reactions to non-specific stress: the Alarm Reaction, the Stage of Resistance, and the Stage of Exhaustion. During the first stage, the body recognizes danger and the “fight or flight” response sets off by the activation of the HPA axis, the sympathetic nervous system, and the adrenal glands. The problem occurs when the energy provided by the main stress hormones cortisol, adrenaline, and noradrenaline are not used by physical activity and excess production of cortisol remains in the body. The body then shifts into the resistance stage, where homeostasis begins to restore balance and repair damages. Here, the problem occurs when chronic stress puts the body in a state of arousal with little or no recovery time. At the final stage, stress level remains high and the body’s adaptation energy supply is burnout, causing damaged nerve cells and adverse function of the autonomic nervous system. Selye’s theory was that stress is the major cause of disease because chronic stress causes long-term chemical imbalance in the body. The passage below is from the original article:

Why does exposure to the same stressor produce disease only in certain Individuals?

It is undoubtedly true that the same drug, microbe, emotional irritant, or physical injury may produce a disease of adaptation in one person and be tolerated with impunity by another. It should be recalled, however, that the general adaptation syndrome is a useful, normal physiological reaction to stress; only its derailments have been interpreted as diseases of adaptation. Hence exposure to a stressor can be expected to produce such diseases only if the defence reaction is inadequate. Thus, for instance, in our experimental efforts to produce the hyalinosis-hypertension syndrome in rats by exposure to cold we found it necessary to perform unilateral nephrectomies and to keep the animals on high sodium, high-protein diets. All these conditioning circumstances failed to produce disease in the absence of stress, but upon exposure to cold they caused a derailment of the general adaptation syndrome, with consequent cardiovascular lesions, nephrosclerosis, and a rise in blood pressure. It is very probable that ill man also, under the influence of stress, similar diseases would develop only when the general adaptation syndrome is prevented from evolving in a normal manner, as a result of adverse conditioning factors.

Ultimately, with high levels of stress, we also see increases in health problems and diseases. This is where the DiSH Lab comes in, as Selye’s G.A.S. model has inspired and guided our focus on chronic stressors such as dieting and weight stigma to understand the impact on physical health.

Virginia Guest Blogs: Top 10 Benefits of Meditation!

By Virginia Cunningham

When we get sick, we know doctors can offer us medicine to cure us physically. But Health Psychology tells us we need to consider the mind as well. A depressed person is much more likely to develop a cold. Extra stress at work can lead to high blood pressure. If your mind can influence your illness then it stands to reason that improving your health should start with something that targets the mind AND the body. Meditation is one such vehicle with proven benefits for both body and mind.

Here are the top 10 ways that meditation benefits the mind and the body:



1. Boosted Immunity

A poor immune systems leaves you at risk to get sick from the bacteria and viruses that your body is exposed to everyday. According to research, meditation has shown great results in boosting immunity.

2. Increased Fertility

For those who are having trouble getting pregnant, or simply want to boost their chances, meditation can be just the thing. Just 30 minutes of calming meditation a day can alter the chemistry in your brain resulting in higher fertility.

3. Lowers Blood Pressure

High blood pressure is connected to many different health issues, including strokes, and it is even affected by stress. Meditation can make its mark on your body by lowering your blood pressure. If you’re in the danger zone for blood pressure, consider adding a few minutes of mediation to your daily schedule –  even just ten minutes can make a big difference.

4. Helps Prevent Heart Disease

Heart disease is one of the most common causes of death, and is also worsened by high levels of stress. In order to reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease, heart attack, or stroke, the American Heart Association recommends 20-30 minutes of meditation to relieve yourself of the stress that can egg on these health issues.

5. Pain Management

Whether you have a sport’s related knee injury or chronic back pain, regular pain can affect your life negatively. Relying solely on medication to deal with the pain can become addictive and is dangerous for your health. Try meditating a few times a week, and you will likely find a large reduction in your daily pain.




6. Endorphins

Endorphins are basically the brain’s natural high. The pituitary gland sends neurotransmitters to the body which are like happiness signals. Usually, endorphins are produced during exercise like running, but meditation has also been proven to increase the production of endorphins in the body, which reduces stress and controls cravings,

7. Enhances Memory

As you get older, you become more forgetful.  The results of meditation are high in memory improvement and a longer attention span. It only takes 20 minutes a few times a week to get a stronger memory.

8. Fights Depression

If you’re fighting depression and don’t want to become reliant on medication, meditation might be for you. Not only does it release endorphins, it can also reduce the stress and positively affect your brain chemistry.

9. Better Brain Function

Don’t we all wish that our brains were always at the top of our game? Meditation has the potential to increase your quick thinking abilities, which assists you when taking tests, facing a crisis at work, or even just completing a puzzle.

10. De-Stressor

When not dealt with, stress can rule your life and cause a plethora of health issues. The calming atmosphere of meditation and the few minutes you take to rid your mind of negative thoughts can make a world of difference.

Want to get the most out of meditation?

A great way to enhance your meditation experience is by creating a room solely devoted to that. By adding some greenery, a water wall, or even just calming music, you can greatly change the way that stress affects your health. Your room does not have to be fancy–just make sure that it’s only purpose is for meditation.

While meditation is not a replacement for a doctor’s care, it can do a lot to prevent further health problems. It only takes a few minutes a day to see results in your overall health. When you start meditating before your health problems take control of your life, you are better able to actively fight for better health.


Virginia Cunningham is a freelance writer and yoga enthusiast based out of Los Angeles. With the stresses of life that can so easily build up, she enjoys practicing yoga and meditation daily to combat these problems. 

Research that Changed Research: Stress and Telomere Length

Take a look at the United States Presidents (See photos). From the start of their term to the end, their appearances change dramatically. This is a perfect demonstration of how in just 4 to 8 years, chronic stress contributes to years of aging on the skin, gray hairs, drooping eyes, wrinkles, and even balding spots. It is obvious that being the President of the United States is not an easy job. But, why does psychological stress cause premature aging and health issues? Researchers discovered three possible ways of cell aging: immune cell function or distribution, oxidative stress, or telomerase activity.

Dr. Elissa S. Epel and her research team hypothesized that stress gets “under the skin” through the modulation of the rate of cellular aging. Evidence showed that long-term stress is significantly associated with increased oxidative stress, reduction in telomerase activity, and shorten telomere length. Therefore, to test their hypothesis, 58 premenopausal mothers were examined and separated into two categories: the control mothers (biological mothers of a healthy child) or caregiving mothers (biological mothers of a chronically ill child). The intention of the study was to indicate the importance of perceived stress of each mother and measure the objective stress. The average length and activity of the telomeres were measured quantitatively in the peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs).

The following passage is from the original article:

“It is also notable that, in women, self-reported distress has been related to greater oxidative DNA damage (8-OH-dG) (12). Oxidative stress shortens telomeres in cells cultured in vitro (10). Our findings that perceived and chronic stress correlated with higher oxidative stress and shorter telomere length demonstrate this relationship cross-sectionally for the first time in vivo. Lastly, if the observed lowered telomerase activity represents chronic levels, it too could have contributed to the shortened telomeres in PBMCs.”

Dr. Epel’s research on the impact of psychological stress on telomere length opened the door to new interventions that may help lower perceived stress to help decrease the rate of telomere shortening. The prevention of telomere shortening is important in cell senescence and longevity, and therefore, helps to increase mortality rates and deterrence of diseases. Dr. Epel’s research findings reintroduce the importance of stress and its detrimental effects on health and guide DiSH lab’s own stress-related studies.

Hungry? How to avoid the Snickers…

This post is from DiSH Lab intern Rachel:

Your finals week Snickers bar craving may not be purely from stress. While typical comfort foods are characterized as high in fat and calories and low in nutrition, a recent study from right here at UCLA shines a new light on “stress eating.” The study recruited 59 UCLA students, presenting them with an array of both healthy and unhealthy snacks. They were asked  how frequently they typically ate each of these foods, and which of the foods they would want to eat during finals. Results showed that participants were more likely to choose the foods they eat out of habit rather than the junk foods. This suggests that when we are stressed, we don’t necessarily tend to eat more junk food; rather, we fall back on our habits. This finding is very reminiscent of Allison’s post “Stress and poor health behaviors don’t always go hand in hand…” So the key to eating healthy while stressed is eating healthy habitually.

Stress and poor health behaviors don’t always go hand in hand…

We often assume that stress triggers poor health decisions and behavior… Snacking on more junk food than usual. Overeating. Not going to the gym as much. But according to Wendy Wood from USC, we are just as likely to fall back on healthy, good habits under stress as we are to “self-sabotage.” In other words, stress and fatigue can trigger good health decisions too!

In a study by Wood and her colleagues, they followed students for a semester and observed their habits and daily routines. The researchers found that during exam periods (times of stress and sleep-deprivation) students were likely to fall back on old habits. Students who ate unhealthy breakfasts (like doughnuts) throughout the semester ate more junk food during exams, whereas those who ate healthy breakfasts (like oatmeal) were more likely to continue eating oatmeal during testing periods. Even frequent gym-goers were more likely to exercise, even under stress and time limits!

So the next time you are under stress, pay closer attention to your behaviors…it may be saying something about your day-to-day habits rather than just a temporary case of indulgence!

Pets with Benefits!

With project deadlines, budget cuts, and poor job performances, it is no wonder many people consider the workplace to be a stressful environment. But have no fear, your best friend is here! Published in the International Journal of Workplace Health Management, a preliminary study conducted by Randolph Barker (yes that last name is for real) found that dog owners who took their pets to work had the lowest stress level compared to employees who did not take their dogs to work and those who did not own any pets. Interestingly, dog owners who did not take their pets to work had stress levels that were more than twice as high as the dog owners who took their pets to work. Barker suggests that having pets at the workplace could help buffer stressful situations by helping the pet owner cope more efficiently with negative outcomes.

Chloe Guest Blogs: Feeling the ‘burn’

This Guest Blog is from Chloe Tagawa, one of Dr. T’s Health Psychology students:

No not the burn from working out; we’re talking about job burnout, which results from “high stress, heavy workload, a lack of control over job situations, a lack of emotional support, and long work hours.” A study at Tel Aviv University has found a link between job burnout and coronary heart disease (CHD). Researchers found that people who were in the top 20% of the burnout scale had an increased risk of CHD, by about 79%. While some of these factors are physically taxing, they wear on the body emotionally, as well. Of the 8, 838 participants who had routine health examinations for 3.4 years, there were 93 new cases of CHD at follow-up. This was associated with a 40% increased risk of CHD for those who experienced burnout. Researchers suggest taking action such as exercise, getting substantial sleep, and seeking psychotherapy, to combat the effects of job burnout.

Isaac Guest Blogs: Are final exams bad for our health?

The Guest Blog Post is from Isaac Park, one of Dr. T’s Health Psych Students:

Finals are almost here at UCLA, and this is a hectic time when everyone’s diet, exercise regimen, and healthy lifestyle initiatives take a tailspin. This recent study investigated just this, looking at the effects of academic stress on health behavior in students. 180 students participated in either an exam stress group or a control group. Afterwards, they completed questionnaires about behaviors and stress. Results indicated that in the stress group smoking increased 54.7% and physical activity decreased. Also, alcohol consumption increased by 17% for individuals low in social support. This study ultimately shows how academic stress may play a major role in a student’s health behaviors, so for all of you preparing for the stressful week ahead, try to be conscious of your unhealthy stress management behaviors.

Take a deep breath

Stress is a pivotal component of the DiSH Lab’s research (the “S” after all does stand for “stress”). Measuring physical stress, however, can be a complicated process, as the most common methods – saliva, blood, and hair – all involve biological sample collection, storage, and [oftentimes expensive] assays. Good news is that new research from Loughborough University and Imperial College London has made encouraging strides in identifying a way to measure stress through the breath. A new rapid breath test measurement was able to detect increases in two key compounds after experimental exposure to stress among 22 participants. Although this breath profiling technique is still in the early stages, it offers a really promising [and fast] alternative to current methods of stress measurement!

Danni Guest Blogs: Stress eating in children

Danni Ji, one of Dr. T’s Health Psychology students, guest blogs again!:

In this recent study, researchers tested children to see how stressed they would get by delivering a speech or performing a mathematics task. They measured stress through salivary cortisol before and after the task. After the task, the children participated in an eating activity. Those with exhibited higher cortisol release consumed significantly more calories than those whose cortisol levels only rose slightly. Furthermore, researchers found that cortisol levels stayed elevated or decreased slowly in those kids with the greatest BMIs, and these kids also consumed the greatest number of calories. These findings shed much-needed light on triggers of eating in childhood.