What is stress? How does it work, and what are the mechanisms which can trigger burnout?
If there is no stress-free burnout, stress is not always a bad thing, however. Stress makes it possible for us to react to external threats and therefore to protect ourselves. Without this protective mechanism that allows us to react in seconds, we would not survive very long.
If you cross the street without paying attention and a car arrives, it is a whole unconscious physical and physiological process which starts in the space of microseconds to make you step back or quicken your pace … and thus avoid the accident.
Stress is therefore a natural and biological reaction that our brain “activates” to face external events that it considers threatening, dangerous or scary.
A little history
The word stress comes from the Latin “stringere” which means “to make stiff”, “to tighten”, “to press”. In the 1930s, Hans Selye, the stress theorist, defined stress as “the body’s non-specific response to any demand.” He also explains that stress goes through three successive stages :
- the reaction of alarm,
- the stage of resistance,
- the stage of exhaustion.
He then explains that stress is a natural reaction if it is not excessive.
You can see below what is stress and how stress can evolve.
Why do we stress out?
As said above, it is an emergency procedure that the body or rather the brain puts in place to keep us alive. All the external elements that we perceive via our five senses (touch, smell, sight, hearing, taste) partially meet this objective.
If the brain detects a “danger, a threat”, the ANS (Autonomous Nervous System) activates to generate in the individual two possible reactions:
- Fight or flight (or freeze as well)
At least, that’s what it is called in English.
How does this manifest itself in the body?
We will come back to this in more detail in other articles, but if we are faced with a threat, stress allows us to react. Our body stiffens, our five senses are on maximum alert, breathing becomes rapid to bring more oxygen into our body, our lungs dilate, our heart beats faster to send more blood in the body, our pupils dilate … . in short we are ready for action …
So what? What’s the problem ?
The evolution of man has taken place over hundreds of thousands of years. And since the “first man” mankind hasn’t evolved much.
Our organism has developed from two imperatives: Survive and reproduce. Everything in our body and physiology serves one or the other of these two ends and, in this context, stress proves to be extremely efficient.
Our body is made to respond to a hostile mammoth. However, today, if we rarely come across a mammoth around the corner, our alarm system has remained the same. Whether it’s a mammoth or a stressful meeting, if our brain senses tension, it still reacts the same way because it can’t see the difference. For the brain, there is a threat, therefore danger and therefore need to fight or flee.