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My burn-out
My burn-out

The 3 stages of the response to stress

As a rule, a person affected by stress and burnout has gone through a long process of reactions that unfolds in 3 main phases.

Phase 1: the onset of stress or the alarm phase.

The body reacts to an “aggression” which can be physical or psychological. Adrenaline, which is produced by the adrenal glands, stays in the body for a few hours. The human body is equipped to respond to this phase of stress in particular through the ANS (Autonomous Nervous System). The latter triggers an extremely rapid reaction in the event of an alarm or danger. This mechanism also sparks intellectual stimulation and allows you to be particularly productive.

Phase 2: Hypostress or Hyperstress or the resistance phase.

During this phase, stress begins to set in over time. The periods of stress are either longer and longer in duration or very regular. This is typical of chronic stress. As the body uses a lot of energy to respond to these alarms, during this phase the person’s immune system is more fragile and sensitive to bacteria, viruses… It is during this phase that the person must react to avoid exhaustion.

In this phase, there are two possible scenarios:

  • Hypostress: when a person is not solicited or stimulated enough, when he or she feels useless, idle, when he loses his motivations, his desires etc … when boredom seems to overwhelm his life. In this case, it is not overly high constraints and demands which wield pressure on the individual, it is the opposite. But, for some, this situation is quite agonizing and the brain considers it as a situation of danger. The stress response mechanism speeds up and the body will produce more and more hormones, especially cortisol, which is in a way an “extra boost”. Despite its less ominous name, hypostress is just as devastating and can lead to a bore-out – a syndrome of exhaustion through boredom.
  • Hyperstress, on the contrary, is a very high level of stress linked to demands which physically or psychologically exceed the capacities of the individual. This type of stress is dangerous for your health and increases the risks of nervous breakdown, burnout and cardiovascular accidents. During this phase, the person goes further and further into the resistance phase. He or she hardly ever rests, despite overly-long working days,  brings work home, doesn’t go on vacation … in short, he pushes the engine.

This is the moment when a person needs to worry. In general, the body sends signals through diverse symptoms:

  • physical pain
  • the feeling of a tight throat
  • stomach ache
  • disturbed or non-restorative sleep
  • muscles that contract (such as the jaws)
  • digestion problems
  • a low libido

This phase can then lead to burnout, depression, cardiovascular problems but many other problems or dysfunctions as well.

Phase 3: burnout or the exhaustion phase.

This is what I call the red line. It is in this phase that the person has exhausted their coping skills to face up to sources of stress.

Often, in this phase, the phenomenon of denial appears because the mind, still in the resistance phase, produces thoughts of the type: “I will rest later”, “I do not have time for this or that reason”, “I must”, “I cannot do otherwise …. “

Unfortunately, when the battery has run flat (Yes, as if you were a cell phone that had not been recharged) the body stops responding. It gives up! In fact, the adrenal glands no longer produce the necessary cortisol, the one that keeps you standing and waking up in the morning, working all day long. The body takes control to save your life quite simply.

It is for this reason that in many burnouts, the person literally collapses or feels paralyzed. By blocking the production of certain hormones, the body says STOP!

When you enter this phase, it is estimated that it takes an average of twelve months for the body to be able to produce these hormones again, provided you do what it takes to get better!

For the Japanese, there is a stage after burnout: KAROSHI. Despite their state of exhaustion, certain employees, with the help of their colleagues or others, continue at all costs to go to their workplace where they die of a heart failure, of a stroke or where they suicide. In Japan, Karoshi, refers to a death (all causes combined) associated with work overload, one speaks of syndrome of “death from overexertion”.

Véronique About

Véronique

An entrepreneur and sophrologist, I graduated from CEAS in Paris and from the Sophrology Academy in Ashford, which is a member of FEPS (the Federation of Sophrology Centers), I specialized in issues of stress and burn-out. Do not hesitate to contact me, for any questions or request for support in sophrology.