Stress has devastating health effects

As a manager or leader, you likely experience stress, right? Perhaps you have to fire someone. Maybe your team is not meeting its budget goals and you’re getting pressure from your boss. Or you are distracted at work because your spouse is seriously ill.

An article in the April/May 2015 issue of Neurology Now magazine details the negative, long-term health effects of stress. Let’s take a look at some of those effects, and what you can do to reduce your stress and improve your health.

1. Stress exhausts the brain. Laboratory studies on mice and rats show that “stress triggers chemical, cellular, and structural changes that eventually take a toll on brain function.” According to the article, “Calm Your Mind,” scientists believe that many of these same responses take place in the human brain and produce cortisol, which causes the “flight or fight” response, which then increases heart rate and blood pressure.

2. While that short-term response can help in survival, sustained long-term stress can have the opposite effect.

3. A positive attitude can lesson the effects of stress. In one study, people who reported more positive experiences and a better mood had lower levels of cortisol.

4. Illnesses, such as brain lesions in people with multiple sclerosis, have been reduced by using a stress management program. In one study, almost 77 percent of people who practiced stress reduction techniques remained free of new brain lesions, compared with 55 percent who had not had the training.

5. Results of all this research are important for traumatic brain injury patients, those with neurological-based issues like dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease, strokes, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy, among others.

What are the implications of these findings for managers and leaders? It’s urgent that you begin immediately to reduce your own work-related stress, and the stress produced in the workplace for your employees.

The Neurology Now article recommends five things you can do to reduce your stress:

1. Meditate. Spend a few minutes every day meditating or practicing mindfulness.

2. Move. Exercise, or at least be physically active for 20 to 30 minutes every day. The goal is to get your heart rate of to 75 or 80 percent of its capacity.

3. Laugh. Some evidence suggests that laughter can deactivate the stress hormone cortisol.

4. Listen. Music has a powerful affect on the brain and can induce the release of calming hormones, thereby reducing stress.

5. Strengthen relationships. There is strong evidence that “being socially active boosts cognitive ability . . . and may reduce your risk for dementia by as much as 60 percent. Friendships help reduce the feelings of loneliness, a major cause of depression that can lead to dementia.

In your workplace, make sure you and your employees take plenty of breaks during the day, and get away from the work. Take a brisk walk, visit with others, initiate fun activities in the break room or outside the building. Not only will your productivity increase, but also employees will feel better and have higher morale.

Play soothing or upbeat music in the break room. Give people a chance to disconnect their work-related stress with calming, soothing sounds, or the sounds that get people motivated to move. Remember how much fun it was to dance to the disco music of the 1970s and 80s?

Ask your employees what their workplace stressors are, and find ways to remove them. Deadlines often produce stress, so add fun activities and goals to make the thinking positive, rather than negative. Create inexpensive incentives to help workers buy into goal setting and positive thinking.

Create opportunities for workers to learn new skills or to stretch their imaginations. Adults who learn new things have less stress and better brain functioning, and are happier, than those who never learn anything new. Researchers now know that learning new things is a key part of continued motivation and brain functioning for adults.

Keep a positive attitude yourself, and find ways to help employees keep a positive attitude. Remember, research has shown that a positive attitude can help reduce the stress hormone cortisol. Look forward, not back. Don’t focus on the problems, look for opportunities.

This issue of Neurology Now is online at http://www.neurologynow.com. Check it out, and begin now to reduce your stress and improve your future health. Subscriptions to Neurology Now are free!

Here’s to a healthier, more stress-free future for us all!

About Pat Kelley, MS, SPHR

Pat Kelley, MS, SPHR, is the author of three non-fiction books, including the Second Edition of Hiring Right: A Business Blueprint for Lower Turnover and Higher Profits. She is a retired Human Resources Director with more than 40 years' experience. Certified as a Senior Professional in Human Resources, she is a recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Arkansas Society for Human Resource Management.
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