Hans Selye, the Canadian pioneer of stress research, believed that everyone is born with a certain amount of Adaptation Energy. This energy is gradually used up as stressful events are encountered. In other words, once it is spent it cannot be replaced.
Selye believed that we all may inherit a different quantity of Adaptation Energy, but once it is gone then burnout occurs. In studies of shell-shocked soldiers, Winston Churchill's personal physician Lord Moran, referred to this energy simply as courage. In terms of Adaptation Energy and the effects of its depletion, shell shock in young soldiers is similar to senility in the elderly. Apparently the theory of the general adaptation response, the effects of severe stress follow a pattern of three stages: the alarm stage, the adaptation stage (or stage of resistance, during which the person adapts or withstands the attack) and finally the exhaustion stage.
This sequence is followed in all situations of stress, regardless of whether it is physical or emotional. The alarm stage may be characterised in the case of physical injury by pain or inflammation and in cases of emotional upset by shock. In the adaptation stage the body adjusts to the crisis or resists it, perhaps by stiffening a joint or suppressing hurt feelings. If there is still no relief from the stressful situation then what follows is the exhaustion stage, during which there is physical degeneration or emotional collapse.
Studies of morale amongst bomber crews during WW II demonstrated that the alarm stage persisted for the first five or six missions; the adaptation stage lasted for approximately another five missions. Some time after about the 11th flight the exhaustion stage was usually reached i.e. the equivalent of shell shock. A stage in which young men aged almost overnight.
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