The Solution to Stress (that goes far beyond stress reduction)

There is a solution to stress that takes people far beyond anything stress management can achieve.  The solution is neuroplasticity.

Stress management focuses on changing your behavior; neuroplasticity focuses on changing your brain.

The problem with behavioral change is that stress-provoking behaviors are often hard wired into your brain. These networks fire at a rate faster than you can catch. It’s the brain directing you.

Neuroplasticity is you directing your brain to rewire through a specific shift in attitude that literally switches the brain’s auto-pilot from one that habituates stress and anxiety to one that sustains a dynamic state of peace.

Neurologically, ‘peace’ represents neural networks wiring and working together to sustain the proverbial calm under siege that enables you to see a problem fearlessly, analyze it intelligently, engage it creatively, and make the best decision.

Neuroplasticity expands higher brain structure (it’s called axonal sprouting) to sustain a high level of cognitive performance, emotional stability and interpersonal strength.   It can lift intelligence from average to exception and enable a person to be more creative.

Stress, on the other hand, shrinks higher brain structure (it’s called synaptic pruning), limiting the capacity to excel.

The Harris Poll says stress is a big time workplace problem

Harris Poll’s 2012 Work Stress Survey found that 73% of the one thousand respondents were stressed by at least one thing at work.  That’s bad news for companies.  Last year U.S. businesses lost a whopping 13.4 million days of worker productivity (Healthand Safety Executive report, 2005). Stress lessens job satisfaction (Belicki & Woolcott, 1996), makes people seriously ill and is estimated to reduce the bottom-line by a third of a trillion dollars nationwide (American Institute of Stress, 2011).

Stress represents an enormous waste of brain power

These are large issues, but they are only the tip of an iceberg. Stress debilitates the higher brain function that can elevate a person from average to exceptional intelligence to sustain creative insight and peak performance.  This represents enormous potential that goes unrealized within most companies.

The neurobiology of stress

All these problems have to do with the way stress hormones impair higher brain function.  Here’s the neurobiology of stress in a nutshell:

  • Stress hormones shrink the higher brain networks that enable a person to make the leap from average to exceptional intelligence and sustain it.
  • Expand primitive networks that lock people into fight,  flight or freeze,
  • Switch the emotional set point to negative,
  • Impair the immune system,
  • Kill brain cells,
  • and eventually kill us.

Human Resource departments recruit the best brains and then drop them into a stress filled workforce that shrinks brain capacity. Imagine recouping that brain power by teaching your workforce how to transcend stress.

Mayo Clinic

Here’s the message companies are slow to get: Stress is not something a company should someday do something about.  Companies need to attend to it today.

How?  If stress is a problem it has to do with the way genetics and a difficult past wired the brain for a hyperactive stress response.  The brain can rewire to quiet stress reactions and amplify the emotional and creative intelligence to succeed.  It’s achieved and strengthened by learning and then practicing simple processes for dispelling worries, refuting anxiety-provoking thoughts, having faith in your strengths, trusting the process as it unfolds,  listening better, judging less, forgiving more and cultivating compassion.

Practiced in the boot camp of everyday life, these qualities form into an attitude that within weeks becomes ‘neuroplastic.’  Meaning it rebuilds your brain to provide the means to an intrinsically rewarding and successful life.

Train your mind, change your brain.

It’s the new competitive edge.  Everything else is just another best practice.

Source for 2012 Work Stress Survey : Perman, C., Stress a big-time workplace malady. NBC News, 2012, August 15