Stress: Optimize the Good and Manage the Bad

Brain training is a useful complement to corporate wellness programs and can help facilitate a readiness for change. Online games, videos and interactive tools backed by scientific evidence can help employees reduce stress, focus on setting and accomplishing goals and increase productivity.

Stress isn’t as bad as we think. A little bit of stress is actually ok, even good for you. It is a normal, hard-wired, emotional and physiological response to events you perceive to be threatening, whether they actually are or not. It’s the body’s way of protecting you, helping you stay focused and alert. The stress response can even be a source of personal growth, pushing you to think in a positive way and tackle those obstacles that can be overcome with a certain amount of focus.

The scientific evidence is clear that a positive outlook, “the hallmark of well-being,” may actually result in success, rather than the other way around―success producing happiness.

Shawn Achor, author of The Happiness Advantage and the article “Positive Intelligence” appearing in Harvard Business Review, says that you can train your brain to be positive. His research suggests that people who receive support from their coworkers – but more importantly, are supportive of their coworkers―and think about stress in a positive way―can increase their happiness and chances of success.

Stress in the workplace

The results of the American Psychological Association’s Stress in America survey indicate that a staggering 70 percent of those polled said that work was a significant stressor in their lives.

We know that too much stress or prolonged periods of stress can be bad for your health. This typically occurs when you feel that the demands placed upon you exceed your ability to cope. Research has shown a strong and consistent link between stress and overall health.

It is estimated that workplace stress costs the U.S. more than $300 billion each year in health care, missed work, and stress reduction efforts.

For workers in high-stress jobs, the number of visits to health care professionals was up to 26 percent higher than for workers in the low-stress job category, according to a recent study. Stressed out workers are increasingly turning to health professionals for physical, mental and emotional issues.

Dealing with occupational stress

It’s pretty clear that in any workplace environment, a certain amount of stress is going to be inevitable. What would be great is if you could find a way to increase your “brain health” and optimize the positive aspects of stress (being alert and focused) when dealing with controllable stressors, and manage the more negative or uncontrollable types of stress in a more effective way.

So what is “good stress”?

A positive stressor would be a sustained period of focus and concentration, enabling you to identify your goal and feeling a sense of satisfaction once you achieve it. That’s good stress, the kind that leads to peak performance. The negative stressor would be the situation of being under sustained stress when it seems purposeless, and potentially not controllable by you.

Brain health is becoming mainstream 

More and more companies are now implementing corporate wellness programs, expanding their offerings to help their employees deal with their stressors by focusing on the positive, increasing well-being, and promoting resilience.

What studies by Brain Resource have demonstrated, through years of research developing the standardized methodology for online neuropsychological assessments and game development, is that training the brain to have a positive outlook helps people better deal with stress, which can ultimately build resilience. Resilience isn’t about ignoring feelings, but rather having the ability to feel pain and anger or confront adversity without becoming paralyzed by it. It won’t make the problems go away, but it may give people a chance to see past them. Stressed employees can develop skills to become more resilient by focusing on the positive with games like e-Motion Well-being at Brain Resource’s brain training website MyBrainSolutions.com.

Kathleen Herath, VP of Health and Productivity at Nationwide Insurance, says, “We had added things for our healthy, low-risk population, but we hadn’t added anything for the brain. And that was what we were looking for.”

Neuroscience research shows that the brain interprets any change as threatening, and that it is important to learn by “doing.” This change is brought about by developing the core capacities that support making healthy choices, including the ability to focus on tasks, learn from mistakes, overcome impulses, tune into the positive, manage stress and develop resilience.

Brain training is a useful complement to corporate wellness programs and can help facilitate a readiness for change. Brain Resource’s online games, videos and interactive tools, available at MyBrainSolutions.com are backed by scientific evidence and can help employees reduce stress, focus on setting and accomplishing goals and increase productivity.

Herath adds, “We’ve also been using brain training as a differentiator with our Wellness programs. What better way to lose weight or quit smoking if you know what motivates your brain? What we started hearing was ‘This is more than just fun, this really made a difference. We have found an approach that appeals to them and its helping them take positive action as it relates to their health.”

Training your brain to have a positive outlook can help you deal with stress more effectively, which can build your resilience and may also lead to your personal success. Although many Americans recognize that stress can have an impact on their health and well-being, they don’t always take action. However, with the appropriate support at home and work, using fun and engaging brain training tools to increase gratitude and mindfulness are all relatively easy things to accomplish if you want to make a difference, and can have a profound impact on you and those around you.

A version of this post appeared at Corp!

Russell Phillips, Ph.D., Director of Research Solutions, Brain Resource has been researching and writing about stress and anxiety for 20 years, when he began working at NYU and then at Stanford. Russell is currently located in San Francisco and can be reached at Russell.phillips@brainresource.com. Read more from Russell at MyBrainSolutions.com/library.

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