What happens to our brain function when we are under pressure?
- Our cortex, which plays a key role in awareness, thought and language, switches off so we are left simply to ‘react’. This is our fight, flight, freeze type of responses
- We can lose our capacity to think and make reflective decisions
In his book, Thinking, Fast and Slow, Kahneman refers to this as: System 1 thinking, where we just react without thinking. The good news is there is also System 2 thinking, where we are able to be considered and reflective first, and then act.
The impact of stress in the workplace
The negative impact of working in a stressed state is often taken as part and parcel of working in healthcare. However, when it comes to sustained stress, we know that:
- Sustained stress can damage the hippocampus, the part of the brain which is central to learning and memory
- Operating in a ‘stressed’ mode means we function slower and are less effective
- Looking at stress in the workplace, evidence shows links with lateness, absence, relationships difficulties, lack of motivation, feeling overwhelmed, reluctance to engage, difficulty decision-making, burnout and compassion fatigue
Being aware of the impact of stress helps us to be attuned to times where we need to give ourselves a little more space to let System 2 thinking step in.
So, how do you get to and stay in the good zone?
- Recognising what activates your stress and the impact this has on your coping capacity
- Understanding what is within your control to change
- Understanding and paying attention to the 6 domains of resilience
- Having the psychological space to think and take meaningful action to protect and retain your own resilience