Modern life is full of hassles, deadlines, frustrations, and demands. For many people, stress is so commonplace that it has become a way of life. Stress isn’t always bad. In small doses, it can help us perform under pressure and motivate us to do our best. But when we’re constantly running in emergency mode, our mind and body pay the price.
Stress is a normal physical response to events that make us feel threatened or that upset our balance in some way. In fact, for many people, any amount of change at all can trigger stress, especially if it’s perceived to be unwanted change. When we sense danger—whether it’s real or imagined—our body’s defenses kick into high gear in a rapid, automatic process known as the “fight-or-flight-or-freeze” reaction, or the ‘stress response.’
In today’s fast paced and ever changing business climate, the most dangerous thing about stress is how easily it can creep up on us. We get used to it. It starts to feel familiar, even normal. We don’t notice how much it’s affecting us, even as it takes a heavy toll.
The signs and symptoms of stress overload can be almost anything. Stress affects the mind, body, and behavior in many ways, and everyone experiences stress differently. Not only can overwhelming stress lead to serious mental and physical health problems, it can also take a toll on our relationships at home and at work.
The stress hormones, most notably adrenaline and cortisol, erode higher-brain networks, inhibiting us from succeeding fully at life. Chronic stress means the stress response system is turned on nearly full-time, releasing toxic hormones into our system, and shutting down the ‘creative and executive’ parts of our brain. Stress hormones, when continuously in our system can even shrink our higher brain networks responsible for creativity and decision-making. Stress hormones can impair the immune system, ruin the cardiovascular system, and damage chromosomes producing cancer cells and cause premature aging. At work, stress dampens performance, thwarts teamwork, leads people to make bad decisions, and accounts for nearly half of turnover.
Because of the widespread damage stress can cause, it’s important to know your own limit. But just how much stress is “too much” differs from person to person. We’re all different. Some people are able to roll with the punches, while others seem to crumble in the face of far smaller obstacles or frustrations. Some people even seem to thrive on the excitement and challenge of a high-stress lifestyle. Our ability to tolerate stress depends on many factors, including the quality of our relationships, our general outlook on life, our emotional intelligence, and genetics. Having the necessary knowledge and awareness, and then mitigating the stress using techniques appropriate for you personally, is essential for every single person in today’s workplace.
In today’s organizations, when a company hires an employee, they are essentially hiring that person’s brain and hoping it’s a smart brain that will grow even smarter with experience. But place that person in a high pressure work environment without the tools to transcend stress, and the likelihood is that he or she will lose brain capacity. In reality, stress can drain organizational brain power.
One of the most necessary tools in today’s work place is a well-developed program for workers to learn about how stress affects their brain, and their physical and emotional wellness, and then provide an environment equipped with the exercises, techniques and trainings necessary to mitigate their stress.