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Stress in the Workplace: Understanding Allostatic Stress with Dr. Susan David

March 29, 2018 / Corporate Wellness

Stress in the workplace impacts productivity and employee satisfaction. Learn about allostatic stress and how to prevent it.

Harvard Medical School Psychologist and Virgin Pulse Science Advisory Board Member, Dr. Susan David has built a career understanding wellbeing, productivity, and stress in the workplace. According to David, organizations need to better understand what’s going on “underneath the hood” at their organization before true change and growth can take place. In short, stress at work is not one size fits all.

We all know that stress has a physical impact on the body of the stressed. One way stress manifests is in the development of allostatic load, and refers to the “wear and tear” on the body as a result of chronic stress.  

Not to be confused with event-based stressed (a new commute, a death in your family, or suffering an injury), allostatic stress is the passive buildup of stress over time, the lingering anxiety that may feel present throughout an average day.  

For instance, if you’re experiencing stress in the workplace such as back-to-back meetings, making it impossible to get ahead on deliverables, this can lead to a feeling of anxiety. This anxiety or passive stress lingers in your body over time, resulting in long-term ramifications.  

Allostatic stress has been proven to lead to:

  • Accelerated aging (around 10 years)
  • Wear and tear on brain and body
  • Compromised immune system
  • Increased rates of cancer, heart disease, and diabetes 

Plus, your brain isn’t so great when stressed. 

But how does allostatic stress happen?

The question really is, how does bad stress occur? If we know that allostatic stress is repeat or chronic stress that’s negatively impacting our bodies, first we need to understand what this “bad” stress is…

While most of us know stress when we see it (or feel it!) it’s harder to actually define. Susan David provides this working definition:

“Bad” Stress = stressors that are beyond an individual’s PERSONAL coping resources

You got it, this means bad stress, or stress that leads to overwhelm, is different for everyone. You’ve no doubt seen this in your own life – what stresses out one person doesn’t affect another the same way. Every individual is in fact, individual in this way.

While every person is different in what makes them stressed, coping techniques for stress can be improved upon, particularly at the organizational level.

Organizations have the opportunity to “raise the bar” for individuals so they can better cope with complexities and stressors that come their way.

Interested in learning stress coping mechanisms that increase productivity and innovation in your organization?

Download Understanding Emotional Agility,developed exclusively with Susan David by Virgin Pulse.

Renee Mitson Circle Photo

Renee Mitson is the Senior Manager of Content Marketing at Virgin Pulse. She loves living in Providence, and enjoys cycling and eating spicy food (but not at the same time). 

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