Exhaustion Phase

After the resistance phase, when the stressor is gone, you return to normal functioning. But when resistance lasts, higher cortisol levels added on top of your natural cortisol, which follows a circadian rhythm, are higher at all times. When this phase lasts too long, your body depletes its adaptive energy resources and has nothing left to fight. You enter the exhaustion phase.

This happens especially when you experience many stresses, which all add up to a higher cortisol level, each time making it more and more above the norm. Therefore, it is not only how big a stressor is, but how many of them do you have and whether you get a chance to recover from stress.

Stress response or GAS is our survival mechanism that evolution equipped us with. But as you will see in the next lessons, evolution didn’t do its job too well by modifying the stress response to be suited to our modern conditions. We use the same mechanism that our ancestors used to survive while escaping a dangerous predator to react to stressors such a job interview, tight deadlines, or unpleasant arguments. Even though they are not as endangering to our survival, they still activate the same mechanism and much more often than hunters-gatherers experienced it.

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