Even a perceived threat triggers a stress response in our brain that triggers the entire system to perform at its peak.
Even a perceived threat is enough.
As I listed in the article about the brain's mind-body problem and a few facts about it, the brain reacts with a stress response when it feels threatened. The brain is not directly built for us humans to live long and happy lives. Most structures are primarily for survival and continuation of the species. This mechanism was already necessary for survival in primeval times.
The emergency response is triggered by the emotion centre and the body begins to produce stress hormones. The sympathetic nervous system, the performance-enhancing part of our nervous system, is activated by our brain stem via the hormone noradrenaline. This stimulates the adrenal medulla to release adrenaline and cortisol.
These hormones have an effect on our blood circulation. Blood pressure and pulse increase and the muscles of the arms and legs are better supplied with blood. Breathing speeds up and the bronchial tubes are dilated. Energy is made available and released into the bloodstream in the form of sugar and fats.
Unnecessary energy consumers, such as digestion and the blood flow to internal organs, are shut down. The sensitivity to pain is reduced.
The entire body is prepared for the emergency programmes of flight, attack or defence. As a comparison: the engine is running at high rpm at idle speed. We must now ensure that this prepared energy is dissipated again.
Negative stress in everyday life
Positive stress or short periods of stress followed by a period of recovery are healthy. It also helps to cope with challenging situations.
However, negative permanent stress leads to very unhealthy permanent consequences. If we are belittled by our superior in a meeting or even feel unfairly treated, we react as we did 100,000 years ago. Now we are sitting in a meeting with many people and our body is tuned for maximum performance and ... we are not allowed to react. We can't run away and run the 30 minutes to flush the ordered fat-sugar mixture out of our veins and be able to think clearly again. It's still the emotional system at play. So everything stays where it is.
In the long term, chronic stress causes damage to our health. We become more irritable and nervous. This leads to tension and concentration problems. If the stress lasts longer, sleep disorders, migraines and listlessness follow. It "hits the stomach". The constant stress on the coronary arteries from fat and sugar leads to their blockage.
A chronically elevated cortisol level damages the immune system of the stomach, kidneys, heart and brain. The ability to learn is impaired and muscle mass is reduced.
Responsibility at work
I hope I have been able to illustrate the wide range of consequences of constant stress - also in everyday working life. I think that each of us must do our part to protect ourselves and also our employees from these consequences.
A special responsibility, in my opinion, also lies with the managers and executives. Those who invest in their employees must also create an environment in which they are protected from this kind of physical injury.
- Book: Rusch, S. (2019). Stressreaktion. In: Stressmanagement. Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-662-59436-0_6
- Book: Litzcke, S.M., Schuh, H. (2010). Stressentstehung und Stressreaktion. In: Stress, Mobbing und Burn-out am Arbeitsplatz. Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-642-05232-3_2
- Link: Bund - Stress
- Video: WDR Mediathek - Was passiert bei Stress im Körper
- Photo: Nik Shuliahin bei Unsplash