Knowing how the body responds to stress will help you understand some of the symptoms of burnout many leaders and executives experience. Here’s the short version.

The Brain

The brain says, “Here is a stimulus to respond to”. Whether it’s real or imagined does not matter.


The brain sends a signal to the adrenal gland. One of the chemicals that is released is adrenaline. Adrenaline goes out to several parts of the body, getting them ready for action.

The Heart

The brain goes on higher alert. It calls for more blood to help us think and act more clearly. The heart pumps harder to begin delivering that blood to the brain and to other parts of the body that will need it. When the brain is on a priority level like this, it keeps us alert. It keeps us awake. We have increased excitement, and we may not relax or sleep as easily.

The Muscles

Adrenaline signals the muscles. They need to be ready to provide force for quick action. You have heard of the flight, fight or fright response. The muscles tense to be ready for action. Over time this can produce tension and back and headaches. Eventually fatigue can set into the muscles, and we simply feel tired.

The Stomach

The stomach is also signaled to be ready for action. It needs to digest food more quickly to provide quick energy. So acid is secreted into the stomach to aid in speeding up its functions. Over time, this may show up as heartburn, upset stomach, and eventually ulcers.

Hands and Feet

Because there are critical parts of the body where blood is needed so that these parts can be ready for action, blood is withdrawn from other places where it is not needed as much, like the hands and feet. At times you have probably experienced cold hands and feet, not because of the climate, but because of stress.

Combined with your circumstances, your current thinking and other factors, these signals your body is giving you may just be your wake up call to symptoms of burnout. Because there are many causes of stress, check with a doctor before jumping to conclusions and self-diagnosis. Stress and overall health are intertwined.

We Invite You to Contact Us

Over a number of years we have coached many leaders, executives and professionals experiencing overload and burnout. An initial conversation will determine if and how we might assist you.

Call our office at 705.687.2711 or email us here.