Understanding Stress, Resilience, and the Neuroscience of Adaptation | Mantle

14 May 2024

Understanding Stress, Resilience, and the Neuroscience of Adaptation

Building resilience is a skill that can be learned and cultivated, offering invaluable benefits in navigating the complexities of the modern workplace. Read on to find out more…

Stress has become a pervasive issue in the workplace. 

According to the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention, a staggering 25% of employees consider their jobs as the primary source of stress in their lives. The World Health Organisation has even labelled stress as the health epidemic of the 21st century. 

This alarming trend is further highlighted by the findings of the 2015 Global Employee Assistance Program (EAP) study, which revealed that employee depression, stress, and anxiety accounted for a significant portion (82.6%) of emotional health cases in EAP programs worldwide.

The root of this problem lies in our current work cultures, which are constantly bombarded by the volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous (VUCA) challenges of the modern business landscape. The relentless pace and intensity of work contribute to increased stress and burnout among employees.

Resilience, the ability to adapt successfully to adversity, has emerged as a crucial characteristic of individuals who navigate the demands of the modern workplace effectively. The good news is that resilience is not merely an innate trait but rather an active process that can be cultivated and developed in the workplace through leadership.

To understand how we can foster resilience, it’s essential to understand the underlying mental processes that support it. Our brains support two sets of mental processes: 

  1. The instinctive and largely automatic responses driven by the X system
  2. The deliberative and controlled responses governed by the C system. 

Much of the discourse on resilience revolves around the interaction between these two systems.

The X system, responsible for automatic processes, operates rapidly and spontaneously, primarily in response to sensory stimuli such as cravings and emotions. 

On the other hand, the C system, which governs controlled processes, operates more slowly and effortfully, facilitating language-based and intentional activities like problem-solving and self-control. The interplay between these systems plays a crucial role in our ability to regulate emotions and impulses in times of stress.

When faced with a perceived threat or stressor, the X system triggers the well-known fight-or-flight response, mobilising the body’s resources for survival. However, our propensity to activate these stress response systems can lead to chronic wear-and-tear on our bodies, exacerbating medical conditions like heart disease and impairing cognitive function.

The C system, while capable of exerting control over our reactive responses, operates within limited bandwidth and consumes significant energy. Our brains tend to default to habitual responses rather than engaging the more effortful processes of the C system during times of stress. 

There are several proven cognitive strategies that can support resilience building:

  1. Break daunting tasks into smaller, manageable segments to alleviate overwhelm and free up working memory.
  2. Use positive imagery to envision success and mentally rehearse desired outcomes, enhancing performance and confidence.
  3. Practice techniques like deep breathing and emotion labelling to manage stress and enhance cognitive control.
  4. Choose a growth mindset perspective to events, cultivating optimism and resilience in the face of challenges.
  5. Respect the body’s natural rhythms and take regular breaks to reset energy and maintain focus throughout the workday.
  6. Foster compassion for oneself and others, promoting positive emotions and reducing stress while fostering collaboration and cooperation.

Building resilience is a skill that can be learned and cultivated, offering invaluable benefits in navigating the complexities of the modern workplace. 

By adopting evidence-based strategies and fostering psychologically safe organisational cultures, we can combat the pervasive issue of stress and empower individuals to thrive in the face of adversity.

Ready to level up your leadership skills? Talk to Mantle about a free no obligation consult today.