3 Kind of Stress

Dr. Bruce McEwen defines the kinds of stress: 

  • Good Stress – “…the experience of rising to a challenge, taking a risk and feeling rewarded by an often-positive outcome.” 
  • Tolerable Stress – “…those experiences where bad things happen, but the individual with healthy brain architecture is able to cope, often with the aid of family, friends and other individuals who provide support.”
  • Toxic Stress – “…the situation in which bad things happen to an individual who has limited support and who may also have brain architecture  that reflects effects of adverse early life events that have impaired the development of good impulse control and judgment and adequate self-esteem.” 

In other words, there are (1) events that happen to us and around us and there is (2) our response to those events. Our response to events is completely dependent on the health – and architecture – of our minds. 

This is important for the Human Resource leader to understand when dealing with people. At some point, we will face employees with stress in their lives. We can better understand their response by understanding these three kinds of stress. In reality, circumstances do not determine stress; our response does. The person who responds well to stress and adversity probably has good brain wiring developed through a good upbringing in their early years.

Juxtapose this person with the person who does not respond well to stress or adversity in the workplace. The response you are seeing is the tip of the iceberg. What potentially lies beneath probably has more to do with negative brain wiring due to events that happened early on in the person’s life. 

In other words, mental and emotional health. 

Mental health refers to how a person’s brain processes events or adversity; emotional health refers to how a person acts on their brains processing the event. 

Is it the responsibility of the workplace to care for the mental of their employees? The jury is still out on this one. However, to think that you, as the organizational or human resource leader, will be able to hire a workforce that is 100 percent filled with people who have complete positive brain wiring and have never experienced traumatic events in childhood is probably a bit too optimistic. Most people come to their adulthood having faced some sort of stress or adversity in their foundational years. 

In order to build a truly resilient workforce, an organization is wise to have a basic understanding of the mental health of its employees and provide, at the very least, basic resources to help team members process personal and professional situations. 

As an organizational or Human Resources leader, what are your thoughts? 

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