What is Stress?

Stress has a major impact on the functioning of the human brain.   Everyone can relate to the feeling of being stressed.  Some stress of course is good.  It optimizes performance.  Our system releases chemicals like adrenalin into our bodies to do just that.  But too much or prolonged stress have unwanted effects.  Our working memory is reduced.  Our mind is subject to a lack of focus – it wanders helplessly.  And, we become more emotionally reactive.

Stress in life is unavoidable.  It is chronic stress that we need to deal with directly.  Chronic stress comes from a feeling of no control over circumstances.  When things constantly go wrong or workloads are relentlessly high our body reacts automatically by helping us with adrenaline and other chemicals – supporting the fight or flight system – so that we are able to get through whatever challenge.

Running on adrenaline for days, weeks or months on end eventually causes problems in our physical bodies.  We end up with heart problems, diabetes, other auto-immune diseases and possibly respond with other negative stress responses like alcohol use, drug use, gambling, etc.

All of these things reduce the performance of the individual.   Whose problem is this?  These days so much chronic stress appears to be emanating from workplaces and consequently it might be incumbent on employers to provide solutions.

A basic meditation programme like Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) is advised for individuals.  Developing a meditation practice helps us to reduce the unwanted effects because in today’s world we cannot hide from the volatility, the uncertainty, the complexity or the ambiguity.  But what we can do is develop an ability to stand firm in the midst of the storm.

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