Hans Selye and what the Pink Panther Movies can teach us about Stress and Disease

Hans selye GAS Stress
Hans selye GAS Stress
Our modern day society has too much Stress

According to the UK Office of National Statistics, a report by the Health and Safety Executive issued in 2013, stress, anxiety or depression was listed as a prevalent factor in 487,000 cases of work related illnesses. These figures have been steadily increasing each year. In daily life, more and more of us are being affected by stress.

Some stress can be good for us, but not too much

Stress is an important part of life and it can be positive. The human body is designed to deal with stress. It keeps the body alert and able to avoid danger. Unfortunately, modern day living can be stressful in a peculiarly negative way.

Hans Selye’s GAS – don’t pull his finger

The scientist Hans Selye showed the negative effects of stress with his model called the General Adaptive Syndrome (GAS).

In his work, Selye subjected laboratory rats to stress (by torturing them – nice guy).

Unsurprisingly, many of them became very sick, suffering intestinal ulcers, wasting away of the thymus and enlargement of the adrenal glands. Hans Selye concluded that stress causes sickness. He developed the GAS model to explain the process.

In his theory of the General Adaptive Syndrome (GAS), the body goes through three stages when dealing with stress: Alarm, Resistance and Recovery or Exhaustion. In the ‘alarm’ stage, a stress appears.

Applying the Hans’ Selyes GAS Theory to the Pink Panther Movies

If we apply the theory of GAS to the Pink Panther movies, we can give a basic explanation of how the General Adaptive Syndrome works.

In the Pink Panther, Peter Sellers played a bumbling French detective called Detective Clouseau.

Clouseau relaxing in his hotel

In these movies Clouseau hired a Chinese martial art-practicing servant called Kato Fong to help keep his senses sharp and his reactions acute by carrying out random surprise attacks on him.

As Clouseau enters his hotel room, Kato would jump out from behind the curtain with a loud scream “Saaaaaaaaah” and attempt to karate-chop his skull.

Suddenly Kato Fong appears

In this situation, Clouseau’s alarmstage would be activated, immediately triggering his ‘fight or flight’ response. In this, his body would prepare for action by releasing stress hormones – adrenaline, cortisol and norepinephrine into the blood stream which would put him into an ‘attack’ or ‘run away’ state.

These hormones have amazing effects; his breathing rate would increase, blood would move away from his digestive system into his muscles, his eyesight would sharpen and impulses become quicker as he prepared to deal with the stress. Physiologically, these changes require a lot of energy.

This response continued during the ‘resistance’ stageAClouseau contended with Cato by avoiding his chop and then engaging him in combat or avoiding his attacks for a prolonged period of time. All of his energy is focused on dealing with the danger. It is always better to deal with this danger quickly, as a prolonged conflict can be exhausting.

Film and Television
Fight or Flight – Hans Selye GAS

Finally, when Clouseau escaped from Cato or had thrown him out the window, he would enter the ‘recovery’ stage whereby his body would return to a state of calm. However, if his body was not allowed to recover and instead he experienced continual stress (also known as distress), the ‘exhaustion’ stage occurs. Too much distress can lead to burnout.

Pink Panther
Room Service… Can you send someone to clean the room.

As an attack from Kato could usually be resolved quickly, Clouseau was always able to recover from the effects of stress without harm and as intended, it would probably benefit him by exercising his strength and reactions to danger. Unfortunately, the same stress response occurs almost daily among modern humans in situations that are not life threatening.

Daily life stress is constant and low level

In our modern society, we are exposed to constant low-level stress. We get stress from school exams and keeping up with peers. We have work stress – always having to please our boss, our co-workers, our customers. We have stress simply travelling to work in traffic or on crowded trains.

We have stress with paying bills, and bills, and more bills, and running out of money before running out of month.

We have relationship stresses and we have the stress of keeping up with our peers. Even social media creates low-level stress by making us feel inadequate.

But worse is we don’t have time to stop and reflect and to question it all. We must be busy, busy, busy. Always acting. Never recuperating. Stress is continuous and draining.

In this way, we never fully recover. We are like those animals in Seyle’s experiments who are continually subjected to stress and then they get sick.

It is no wonder that illness and diseases are increasing as we become more modernised and advanced. It is a natural result of an unbalanced world.

Liver Ki Stagnation

In Traditional Oriental Medicine, emotions and moods relate to specific organs. The Liver organ, known as the ‘General’ of the body is usually implicated in stress. Excess stress in our life can overstimulate the Liver causing it to ‘overact’ and negatively affect other organs, or its energy can be weakened leading to a weakening of its other functions – storing the blood and ensuring a smooth flow of Ki in the body.

The Liver is also related to the eyes, and in this modern society it is worth considering the influence that overusing the eyes has on our body and the Liver energy. For example, we constantly overuse the eyes by staring at computer screens, smartphone screens, TV screens and not having enough ‘greenery’ in our daily viewpoint.

In the modern age, our Liver energy is over stimulated, excessive and unbalanced. Modern living, which includes the constant low-level stress we are exposed to on a regular basis is synonymous with Liver disharmony.

Denmei’s Liver stagnation

My friend Miro Baricic told me a story of how he attended a seminar with the Japanese acupuncture master Shudo Denmei in Europe some years ago. At one point during the seminar, Shudo took the pulse of everyone in the group and for person after person he came up with the same pulse diagnosis – “Liver”.

Stress and Tension has become the norm (but it really is not meant to be this way)

We may not be aware of it, but low level stress and tension has become a regular part of daily life and work.

This is the not the stress of bombs falling or where your next meal is coming from. It is the low level and constant stress of deadlines, constant bills to pay, being overworked and underpaid, online account after online account to make, passwords to remember, call centres to call, people to impress, authority, a hundred and one rules to be aware of, customers to placate, family and relationship issues to deal with, and a multitude of minor, seemingly unimportant stresses, that when all added together, make us feel like we are lab rats running in a wheel in a cage. Running and running frantically, and yet unable to see that we are running nowhere despite the truth of our situation being right in front of us.

The antidote – remove the stress

Fortunately, we can do something about this. First, it helps to realise that today we are exposed to unhealthy levels of continuous low-grade stress. More than our ancestors would have been.

And then we should learn ways to counteract these stresses. To do activities that burn off these excess stress hormones in our body. Simple things like walking, contemplation, qigong, changing our eating habits and questioning the meaning of your life.

Also to take steps to remove the stresses that get imprinted in our bodily musculature. This kind of body armour makes us stiff and hinders the flow of Ki energy in our body. We need a smooth flow of Ki-energy in our bodies to be healthy.

There are several suggestions to deal with stress in my book – The Genki Self Health Guide: Improve Your Body and Mind with the Principles of Traditional Oriental Medicine. Available on Amazon.

9692342 - shot of a futuristic young woman.

This article contained extracts from the book: The Genki Self Health Guide.

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UK Office of National Statistics. Health and Safety Report 2013/2014

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Images from http://www.123rf.com

Screen shots taken from The Pink Panther Movie


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