Exhaustion Stage of Stress: Psychology Overview

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  • 0:01 Definition of Exhaustion
  • 0:58 Results of an Exhaustion Stage
  • 2:40 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Peggy Olsen
The exhaustion phase is the third stage of Hans Selye's (1907-1982) general adaption syndrome. Learn more about exhaustion and test your knowledge with quiz questions.

Definition of Exhaustion

Have you ever gotten scared when walking at night? What did you do? Did you run until you couldn't go any farther and collapse in exhaustion? Hans Selye's general adaptation syndrome explains how our body responds to stress. The third stage is exhaustion. Hopefully the issue is resolved in the alarm or resistance stage, but the body cannot maintain the resistance stage for a long period of time.

During resistance the heart works harder and the body is focused on the stressor. At some point the body cannot go on and exhaustion sets in. During the exhaustion phase of the general adaptation syndrome, health problems and even death may occur.


The same process occurs with mental stress, not just physical stress. Mental stress from work, school, or personal life that goes on too long can also lead to exhaustion and eventual breakdown. The body reacts the same way even though the stress may not be physical.

Results of the Exhaustion Stage

Factors such as age and health influence the stress response, as do coping skills. Chronic stress increases the chance of illness even if it does not progress to the exhaustion stage. During the resistance phase, the body is not able to fight off colds and flu. Studies have shown an increase in chance of catching a cold after three months of chronic stress.

stress vulnerability

Selye reasoned that the glands (specifically the hypothalamic, pituitary and adrenal glands) prepare the body to cope with stress, resulting in an inflammatory response. You have probably noticed the inflammatory response if you have a wound. The body responds to the stress through physical reactions of the glands.

Stress hormones

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