Better Ways To Cope With Work Stress
Why do great leaders make catastrophic errors? Too much stress is usually the culprit, writes organizational psychologist and leadership expert Dr. Henry L. Thompson. In The Stress Effect, Thompson reveals the ways that too much pressure can shut down a leader’s emotional and cognitive intelligences. He also offers a valuable leadership program that can help anyone find better ways to handle extreme stress. This "stress resilient system" covers three important areas: stress management capacity, cognitive resilience and stress resilient emotional intelligence. By combining all three of these key personal resources, Thompson explains, business leaders at all levels can improve how they make decisions under increasing workplace pressures.
According to the latest studies, stress costs industry in the United States about $300 billion each year. It also causes absenteeism, lost productivity, accidents and medical insurance claims, Thompson points out. Between 75 and 85 percent of all industrial accidents are caused by stress, he adds, and it is linked to six of the leading causes of death.
The Human Brain Under Pressure
Presenting the latest neuroscience on the causes of stress, Thompson shows how the human brain responds to pressure. He explains that the increased levels of cortisol that stress brings to the brain shut down the brain’s cognitive abilities. Since an increase in cortisol interferes with our neurotransmitters, we lose our ability to recall old memories and produce new ones. Thompson says the worst time to make important decisions is when our minds are blanked out from the effects of too much stress.
The good news is that we can learn how to deal with stress better and minimize its negative effects. One answer to high stress environments is what Thompson calls a dominant response hierarchy that gives us layered choices of responses for times when intense pressure kicks in.
Another is the creation of what brain researcher Herbert Benson called "the relaxation response," which puts the body into a deep state of rest. By developing the ability to relax on demand, people are better able to counter times of intense stress. This involves slowing down the heartbeat, relaxing the muscles, slowing the metabolism and decreasing blood pressure.
According to Benson, a practiced relaxation response that can be consciously triggered by the repetition of a word, sound or phrase can "reverse sustained problems in the body and mend the internal wear and tear brought on by stress." This can be an important part of developing the stress management capacity that makes up the first part of Thompson’s stress resilient system.
Tuning in to Stress Levels and Warnings
The second part of that system is developing the cognitive resilience to better face extreme stress. Beyond getting enough sleep and working to recognize any stressors that might be particularly destructive, Thompson explains that maintaining a constant awareness of your stress levels, respecting the rest and recovery cycle, and practicing over and over again the skills that it takes to deal with periods of high stress are three ways that anyone can develop cognitive resilience.
Stress resilient emotional intelligence is the third element in Thompson’s stress resilient system. Developing this antidote to stress begins with recognizing the warning signs of stress. When we know what it feels like to experience stress, including the effects it can have on the brain, body and our behavior, we can begin to use the tools we’ve developed to cope with the pressures of stress.
By monitoring our emotional sensations and physiological responses, and staying in touch with how we really feel, we can learn to evaluate our stress levels and then make better decisions about what actions we should take. In other words, when you feel your eye twitch or your upper lip starts to sweat in reaction to a stressful situation, take a moment to review your feelings before jumping into an inappropriate emotional response.
Thompson’s tips and advice are scientifically based and enjoyably delivered. Filled with the latest discoveries from brain science and the latest breakthroughs in emotional intelligence, The Stress Effect offers a fascinating look at the ways we can recognize and deal with stress before it invades our brains and plays havoc with our work.