The Impact of Stress on our Brains and our Work

April 12, 2021

Written by
Liz Crilley

Research shows it can have far-reaching effects on our mental and physical well-being.

The series of events that has transpired in 2020 have undoubtedly impacted every single person on this planet.  Since the COVID-19 virus started ravaging parts of Asia in early January, there has been a ripple effect of changes to our lives and our sense of normalcy both at work and at home.  

Millions of people around the world have experienced challenging situations from isolation without access to loved ones, to relationship struggles, to working parents tasked with juggling work, childcare, and even teaching their school aged children.  Not to mention some of the more extreme situations where people have lost jobs and financial stability, been ill themselves or lost people they love to COVID-19. Regardless of the situation people are in, they all have one thing in common – Stress.  

We all know the feeling of being stressed when we have a presentation, or an upcoming speaking event: sweaty palms, heart racing, being forgetful (I personally start pacing and talking with my hands more.)  We’ve all been there, and our bodies are biologically built to handle those types of situations and keep us safe from harm.  But, what about when stress is prolonged…say for months, or even longer?  What are the impacts to the brain and the body when a person is in a constant state of “fight or flight”?

There is more and more research being done on the effects of stress on the body and on the brain, and the results are shocking.  Prolonged stress can not only exacerbate existing physical illnesses in the body, it can actually create new ones such as asthma, panic attacks, or even cardiovascular disease.  In addition to the physical body, stress also creates a hormonal reaction in the brain [] which, if prolonged can lead to serious mental health issues such as anxiety and depression.

A report [] last month from the CDC shows 40.9% of surveyed respondents in America reported at least one adverse mental or behavioral health condition, including symptoms of anxiety disorder or depressive disorder during the COVID-19 pandemic. And crucially, in the shorter term, when a person experiences prolonged stress (work pressures or challenges at home), the prefrontal cortex of the brain becomes inhibited resulting in symptoms such as decreased cognitive function, inability to make decisions, poor information retention and memory, which in a work context accumulates to Billions of dollars of corporate risk.    

This is now a major concern for companies as they look to provide innovative solutions to ensure their employee’s mental health is looked after.  There is an entire market in the mental health space with a variety of technology platforms, apps, hybrid and telehealth models, and specialized consulting and personalized services.  At Apiary, we support people in times of life crisis and prolonged stress, and encourage companies to consider both the positive and the negative life events that their employees will inevitably face.  The swift shift companies are making in assessing and implementing these solutions is encouraging, and I hope and believe companies will continue to evolve their health and wellbeing strategies to include even more support solutions as we come out the other side of this pandemic and evolve as a workforce and as a society.  
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