What is “The Stress Curve” and How it Leads to Burnout
The Curve of Stress, its Four Stages and How it can lead to and cause Burnout.
Stress is one of the biggest problems in today’s world. Stress is believed to be the root cause of 90% of all medical visits and it’s one of the main causes for all modern chronic diseases.
Yet not all stress is bad: we need some stress to function optimally. But at the same time we want to avoid the long-lasting exposure to chronic stress, which overtime is detrimental to our health and well-being and leads to burnout.
In this article I’m going to talk about the stress curve, its four stages and how it leads to burnout.
Even though we believe stress is the enemy, the villain and the scapegoat of all the modern diseases and problems in our society, the goal in life is not zero stress.
Too little stress is counterproductive and has its own flaws.
Not all stress is bad: we need some stress to keep us going and keep us motivated, but at the same time too much stress for too long can have detrimental consequences for our health and well-being.
The so-called Stress Curve illuminates this perfectly.
Stress and performance go hand in hand: too little stress and our performance will be zero; too much stress and we will crash and burn. We have to find the sweet spot, the optimal amount of stress that will drive our best performance.
But this doesn’t apply just in life: the stress curve formula can be applied to any aspect of life: sports, goal setting, business, entrepreneurship and health and well-being.
Not enough stress and you’ll be bored, lethargic and purposeless, you won’t have the motivation to pursue your goals, you’ll be stuck and won’t make any progress and it can also lead to depression.
On the other hand, being exposed to too much stress will cause you to feel anxious, obsessive, panicking and numb, you will feel overwhelmed by your goals, visions and tasks and end up not pursuing them at all. Too much stress for too long will also cause you to burn out.
The sweet spot and optimal performance for life is found in the middle: the optimal amount of stress that is not too low and not too high. The optimal stress will drive our performance, ensure a happy and successful life and prevent us from burning out.
Let’s go through each stage and phase.
Stage 1: Too little stress
In the first stage of The Stress Curve, our stress levels in life are too low which cause us to be unmotivated, lethargic, bored, without a clear sense of purpose and direction for our life.
If you don’t challenge yourself enough and “put yourself” under enough stress, you won’t have the motivation and drive to pursue your goals and achieve them.
This concept applies to our health and disease as well — even in the case of burnout condition.
If you’re suffering from burnout, you of course need some rest, to take it more easily on yourself and lower the amount of stress you’re exposed to in life — be it physical, mental or psychological stress. But if you go too far and lower your general stress levels, challenges and tasks in your life too much, it will be counterproductive.
Without any stress and challenges, you’ll feel unmotivated, lethargic, and without a clear sense of purpose and direction for your life and won’t have any progress in recovering and coming out of that burned out state.
“We need some level of challenge and some obstacles to overcome in order to heal. It’s the traversing of the obstacle that actually is the healing.”
~ Aaron Alexander
What to do if you’re in this stage?
So if you feel you’re bored, unmotivated, lethargic, without a clear sense of purpose and direction for your life, up your goals and challenges in life a bit so you reach the optimal level of stress and performance.
If and when you find yourself in this low-stress stage, you want to engage in sympathetic activities: these are activities that release stress hormones and energize us.
Sympathetic activities you can engage in to help you upper the stress:
Sport, training, working out and heavy weightlifting,
Energizing music: eg. heavy metal, gangster rap, …
Cold therapy: cold shower, cold plunge, …
Breathwork: quick, rapid, shallow breathing: eg. Wim Hof Breathing, The Tumo, The Breath of Fire.
Stimulants: coffee, caffeine, nicotine, THC
Also, setting challenging goals for yourself, tracking the progress, creating a sense of urgency, challenging headlines, commitment and accountability are great things that will create some (optimal) stress that will keep you going in life.
Stage 2: Optimal stress
This stage is where The Magic happens.
The right amount of stress — that is not too low and not too high — will create optimal performance, ensure a happy and successful life and prevent us burning out.
Reaching the right amount of stress will cause you to feel energized, engaged, interested and motivated to learn, grow and actively pursue your goals in life.
This second stage is also associated with the flow state where things seem to get done by themselves and where we have a ton of fun and a ton of feelings of passion and purpose.
It’s not easy to master this state: we’re all different and we all handle different amounts of stress. You need to be experimental and figure it out for yourself what are your optimal levels of stress.
Stage 3: Stressed out
If you set challenges that are too high, you’ll feel overwhelmed, under pressure and you’ll find the tasks intimidating — you’ll fail, crash and burn.
This applies to health and well-being too: if you’re exposed to too much stress for too long, you’re in danger of burning out.
During this stage, your body is in a “Hyper adrenal production” state, where your adrenal glands are overactive and are producing more corticosteroids hormones — cortisol, adrenaline, norepinephrine — in response to high stress.
The symptoms of Hyper Adrenal State can include:
Feeling on the Edge of burnout
Physical and mental fatigue
Waking up tired even after good 8–9 hours of sleep
The “Go-go-go” mode and mentality where you’re ready to “go to the battle” and you can’t relax, be mindful and present.
Feeling tired throughout the day, can’t be awake, yet you can’t fall asleep and quiet the mind at night,
High blood pressure and can’t lose weight,
Anxiety, fear and depression.
What to do if you’re in this stage?
If you feel you’re in that stressed out state, you need to engage in parasympathetic activities that will help to calm down your body and your nervous system and help you rest and recover, which will help you get out of that stressed out state.
Parasympathetic activities you can engage in to help you lower the stress:
Light physical activity: Walking, Jogging, Easy Swimming, Tai chi, …
Recovery activities: Yoga, Stretching, Foam rolling, Sauna, Massages, Floatation, …
Mindfulness and Meditation,
Breathwork: slow, deep, belly breathing
Lifestyle practices: Spend time in Nature, Pets, Quality Sleep and Naps
Self-compassion Practices: Self-Love practice, Gratitude practice, Cultivating Joy, Peace, Appreciation, Passion & Purpose…
Supplement you can use to help you lower the stress:
Adaptogens: Ashwagandha, Rhodiola Rosea, Relora, …
L-theanine, Gaba, Tryptophan and 5-Htp (separately or in a formula, I use this product)
Mushrooms: eg. Reishi,
If or when you find yourself in this 3rd stage and you’re reaching the top of the curve, you really need to be careful because you’re just a step away from the edge: if you keep going, you’ll reach the raid and fall into the burned out state — which is the next stage.
Stage 4: Burned Out
The last stage is the Burned Out Stage which happens if the stress exposure has been very high for too long.
In this stage, Adrenal Insufficiency or Hypo Adrenals State occurs. The adrenal glands are “tired” and fatigued because they have been pumping up and producing stress hormones for too long and they’re struggling to produce their hormones which throws off the balance of the whole body’s system and causes many different problems.
The symptoms of Adrenal Insufficiency or Hypo Adrenal State can include:
Burnout symptoms: extreme fatigue, problems concentrating
Tiredness that doesn’t go away with sleep and rest
Can’t get out of bed in the morning and having a harder time to fully wake up and get going,
Relying on stimulants (coffee and caffeine) to keep going,
Hard to focus and stay concentrated,
Brain fog throughout the day and Headaches,
Sleep problems and Insomnia,
Glutes and Low back pain,
Blood sugar swings and Heart Palpitations
Problems with Mental health: anxiety, depression, etc…
What to do if you’re in this stage?
If you’re in find yourself in this burned out state and you have Adrenal Insufficiency or Hypo Adrenal symptoms, you have to:
Take a step back: reasset things, try to figure out what caused you to burnout, try to eliminate as much stress as possible and find a more sustainable lifestyle pace.
Focus on Recovery and Deep rest: Deep Healing Meditations, good quality Sleep, Napping, …
Destress: release accumulated stress from your body that might be causing you additional stress and burnout (more about accumulated stress here).
Supplements: Choose supplements that will support and aid your adrenals to “get back on their feet” and help your body recover from the burned out state. These supplements are:
Adrenal Glandular supplement, (eg. Adrenal Cortex), B Complex, a lot of Vitamin C (ideally liposomal), Vitamin D, Salt, Minerals/Electrolytes and Good-quality Magnesium, Cordyceps, L-Tyrosine, Panax Ginseng, …
Be patient and Believe that you can overcome and recover from this stage, it just might take some time.
If you’re in currently in that Burned Out State and you’re stuck in the cycle of burnout and you want to get out, finally take control of your condition and become the “boss” of your health, I now offer coaching with the help of which you will:
gain knowledge about burnout.
gain knowledge on how to find and identify the root causes of your burnout and how to fix them.
gain knowledge on how the four major pillars of life — the body, the lifestyle, the mind and the soul — can affect and cause burnout and how to improve them.
be able to conquer and overcome burnout and build a new, better version of you.
If you’re interested tolearn more about burnout coaching and plans check out the link below or or reach out to me on my personal email.
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Love and take care of yourself, forget about worries and enjoy life! ✌
~ Jani ❤
Cross posted this! Lots of actionable tools. ❤️