Prolonged Adaptive Stress Syndrome
Q. What is PASS?
A. PASS is an acronym for Prolonged Adaptive Stress Syndrome. (An article is available on my website under Taylor’s Articles.)
Briefly, I began to collect data as individuals described symptoms that mirrored PTSD to some extent but lacked two specific components: flashbacks, and a specific incident that could have served to trigger the symptoms. Eventually, I selected the acronym PASS (Prolonged Adaptive Stress Syndrome) to encompass eight commonly observed symptoms that may be present in varying degrees in individuals who have developed this syndrome after years of living in a manner that was energy-exhaustive for their brain. The eight characteristics are:
The brain likely has to work much harder when trying to accomplish tasks that do not match its own innate preferences or biochemical giftedness. The additional energy-expenditure requirements can contribute to a progressive fatigue that is not really alleviated by sleep. Other symptoms can include an increased need for sleep, interference with sleep, and decreased dreaming. These can conspire to cause further sleep deprivation and fatigue that sometimes borders on exhaustion.
Living an energy-exhaustive lifestyle can push the brain to activate a protective safety mechanism. This hypervigilance can be exhibited at times as a startle reflex, or increased jitteriness. The Reticular Activating System or RAS can push the individual into a state of protective alertness. The additional energy expenditure to enlarge the brain’s metaphoric lens can also contribute to fatigue. (Note: This is sometimes demonstrated in the BTSA as a “dog-leg” push toward introversion.)
3. Immune System Suppression
Failure to live one’s own innate giftedness, which, in effect, is akin to living a lie, can suppress immune system function (e.g., temporarily shrink the Thymus gland). Outcomes that may be observed related to immune system suppression can include a slowed rate of healing, exacerbation of autoimmune diseases, an increased susceptibility to contagious illnesses, and/or an increased risk of developing diseases such as diabetes and cancer.
4. Reduced Function of the Frontal Lobes
Interference with functions of the frontal-lobes may be exhibited in a variety of ways. Some individuals experience a decrease in artistic or creative competencies (e.g., writer’s block, difficulty brainstorming options, diminished problem-solving skills). Others evidence interference with their ability to make logical or rational decisions, exhibit a tendency toward increased injuries due to cognitive impairment, or notice slowed speed of thinking and/or reduced mental clarity.
5. Altered Neurochemistry
Interference with hypothalamus and pituitary function can affect hormonal balance. This may be observed in myriad ways (e.g., decreased growth hormone, insulin production irregularities, alteration in reproduction functions, increase in glucocorticoids that can prematurely age the Hippocampus). There are some reports, from studies involving the brains of mice and rats, that altered neurochemistry due to extreme or prolonged stress may interfere with the permeability of the Blood Brain Barrier. It is currently unknown how similar situations would affect the human brain.
6. Memory Problems
Cortisol, released under stress, can interfere with memory functions in a variety of ways. Dr. Robert Sapolsky of Stanford University (author of Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers) has outlined several consequences of increased cortisol production that impact memory. Following are three examples.
- Decreased utilization of blood sugar by the Hippocampus can create an energy shortage that interferes with an ability to lay down a memory, store data in long-term memory, or access/recall memory at a later date.
- Diminished neurotransmitter function (think of this as “phone lines are down”) can reduce effective communication among neurons. This can result in the mind becoming muddled, with negative effects on attention and concentration.
- Increased production of free radicals associated with stress can actually kill brain cells from within (to say nothing of contributing to other problems such as wrinkling!).
7. Discouragement or Depression
Conserve/Withdraw is a reaction form that the brain may use when an event or situation seems overwhelming and for which there seems no ready solution. Experienced over time, this can lead to discouragement and to a sense of hopelessness. The discouragement in turn can lead to the development of depression or to an exacerbation existing depression. Estimates are that 20 million people in the United States may be depressed at any given time, with approximately 15% of those being suicidal. A mismatch between an individual’s innate giftedness and the way in which he/she is expending vital energy is believed to contribute to both discouragement and depression.
(Two other reaction forms are Fight/Flight, which males are more likely to exhibit, and Tend/Befriend, which females are more likely to exhibit).
8. Self-Esteem Problems
Over time, a lack of success in life, as well as the cumulative impact of other symptoms, can whack one’s sense of self-worth. It can also exacerbate existing self-esteem problems. These issues can appear as behaviors that involve low self-esteem (victim stance) or inflated self-esteem (offender stance), or they can circle around between these two positions. A diminished sense of self worth can occur when a person is working very hard to be successful but is performing activities that are energy-exhausting and that contribute to fatigue and (eventually) to mistakes in performance. A diminished sense of self-worth can also impact the manner in which an individual “lives life” in terms of self care.
Note: The brain is believed to be the first body system to recognize a stressor. It has been said that stressors generally interact with the brain in a predictable ratio. The 20:80 Rule, as it is sometimes referred to, states that:
- 20% of the adverse effects to the brain and body is due to the stressor itself
- 80% of the adverse effects is related to one’s own perception of the stressor and the weight or value ascribed to it
It is possible that the adverse affects on the brain and body resulting from life situations (e.g., over-adapting) that lead to PASS symptoms may exceed the typical 20%. This seems likely, given that this form of stress involves not only external and environmental triggers, but the rate at which the brain itself must work, and the amount of energy that must be expended in order to accomplish the desired tasks. Therefore, this mismatch between one’s innate energy advantage and the activities that the individual actually performs on a daily basis, can be a serious and potentially life-threatening stressor. Over time, this type of stressor may contribute to an increased risk of self-medicating (altering one’s own brain chemistry) through addictive behaviors.