Yoga as a tool in the stategy of stress reduction and burn out prevention

yoga pour gestion du stress et prévention burn out

Stress is the cause of more than 50% of consultations with general practitioners. In Switzerland, absences due to mental health problems have increased by 70% since 2012. In 6 out of 10 cases, burn out or professional exhaustion and depression are the cause of work stoppages, which last 18 months on average.

Burn out is recognized since 2019 by the World Health Organization as a professional phenomenon and not as a disease. This means that its responsibility has shifted from the individual to the organization, from the employee to the employer. However, burn-out is not considered an occupational disease in Switzerland, unlike in other European countries.

Many studies suggest that yoga could slow down the harmful effects of stress. Regular practice could also prevent people who are highly exposed to stress at work from going on to burn out.

What are the effects of chronic stress?

Chronic stress is linked to accelerated biological ageing and increased chronic inflammation and oxidative stress, processes that cause cellular and genetic damage. Scientists call chronic low-grade inflammation in the body “inflammaging“. It is associated with diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, stress, depression and weakened immune systems.

Elevated cortisol levels are a marker of chronic stress. In people under chronic stress, cortisol varies less throughout the day, indicating overactivity of the sympathetic nervous system or the fight-or-flight system. Another marker is brain-derived neurotrophic factor, a naturally occurring protein in the body that regulates neuroplasticity and promotes brain development. People with depression, anxiety or Alzheimer’s disease have been found to have lower levels of this protein. Chronic stress can also affect health by interfering with healthy behaviors, such as exercise, a balanced diet and sleep.

Stress at work also harms companies. Burn out reduces productivity, increases absenteeism and staff turnover. It also leads to conflict, demotivation, and a reduced sense of belonging to the organization.

How does the body react to work-related stress?

Imagine for a moment that you receive an email about an ongoing project (a stressor). Your body and mind react instantly by activating a physical reaction called the fight or flight response. Your heart beats faster, your breathing quickens, and your muscles tense up. At the same time, you may say to yourself, “I’m behind on this project”. Then, in order to manage your anxiety and negative self-talk, you work late to complete the task. Throughout evolution, humans have developed this coordinated fear response to protect themselves from dangers in their environment. Now, fear continues to serve an important function. Indeed, the fight or flight response can provide the energy needed to pull an all-nighter and keep a job.

How does chronic stress lead to burnout?

What happens if you have stressful experiences at work every day? Over time, chronic stress can lead to burnout. The warning signs are generalized fatigue, cynicism, and a feeling of inefficiency.

Causes of burn out (non-exhaustive list):

  • work overload
  • lack of autonomy
  • under-responsibility
  • insufficient pay
  • lack of community
  • unfairness or lack of respect,
  • mismatch between professional and personal values

We understand that root causes of burnout lie not so much at the level of the individual as at the level of his or her management, and that they can be avoided. Burn out prevention strategies should be put in place in companies. But as this is not well developed worldwide, stress management and burnout prevention is often left to the individuals.

What are the benefits of yoga for stress reduction and burnout prevention?

Here is a non-exhaustive list of the benefits of a regular yoga practice:

  • stopping over thinking
  • being present in every situation
  • learning how to slow down and take breaks
  • not identifying with negative thoughts
  • learning how to breathe and calm the nervous system
  • having a better posture at the workstation
  • reducing physical tension
  • improving back and digestive problems
  • cultivating a positive mindset and a healthy lifestyle
  • being in touch with oneself and developing ones potential
  • lowering cortisol levels and reducing the impact of stress on the physical body
  • activainge areas of the brain that increase joy and decrease stress-related emotions

As you can see, regular yoga practice, including conscious movement, breathing techniques and mindfulness meditation, can dramatically reduce stress, calm the mind, release physical tensions and generate feelings of physical and emotional well-being.

I support individuals and groups in their strategy for managing stress symptoms before they become chronic. I also help burn out victims recovering their resources and self-confidence.

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