Stress Awareness Month has been held every April, since 1992 to increase public awareness about both the causes and cures for our modern stress epidemic. In today’s blog post, Alex helps us to understand what stress is and how it can lead to burnout.
Stress is a bodily reaction to threat. It is hardwired into all of us. In other words, it involves automatic, ancient programming over which we have little control. If a predator is chasing us we don’t have time to think about our reaction, we experience the stress response in our bodies. We recognise the flight/fight/freeze response in a change to our physical state. The rise of adrenaline and cortisol is programmed to stimulate our muscles to move, our blood supply to surge energy to those muscles and any prospect of resting or digesting food is temporarily halted. We are primed for our best response.
So far so good, in survival terms. However, this is more problematic when we find ourselves stuck here, on a constant loop of these hormonal surges, and no respite to be found. This is chronic stress. Stress that is never given a chance to leave our bodies before the next threat is recognised. It’s like the story of the frog in boiling water. You may be able to cope in the moment, like the frog in warm water but if you gradually increase the temperature eventually the frog will die as it didn’t notice the gradual build up of heat. Our bodies still respond with the automatic programming. The causes of stress may often be personal, but they are universal in the stress response they trigger.
This is burnout.
Resting and healing from burnout needs to address both the immediate distress and the longer term chronic problems of pressure. We need to learn to complete the stress cycle (see previous blog post on this) so all our stresses do not build together over time. Counselling can help with this, and with addressing any overwhelming stress that has been hanging around too long.