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Ryan Jones
Ryan Jones

Well Stressed: Manage Stress Before It Turns Toxic

Altogether, these results show that psychoeducational program targeting specific populations who are active participants in the knowledge exchange process can have important psychological and physiological effects on helping individuals learn about stress, which in turns helps them manage the stress response and its potential deleterious effects on physical and mental health.

Well Stressed: Manage Stress Before It Turns Toxic


Children experience different types of stressors that could be manifest in various ways. Normal, everyday stress can provide an opportunity for young children to build coping skills and poses little risk to development. Even long-lasting stressful events, such as changing schools or losing a loved one, can be managed fairly well.

But what happens when that stress becomes all-consuming in the way we think and act? Stress is considered toxic when is starts to impact both our physical and mental health. Toxic stress can affect anyone, and it is important that we know what it is, the effects that it has on both our mental and physical well-being, and the ways we can manage it.

Those with increased cortisol levels are also more likely to develop other serious diseases, such as cancer, than those who have had little to no toxic stress in their lives. It is important that those who are struggling with toxic stress learn ways of managing that stress before it causes irreversible damage to their overall physical health .

In most cases of toxic stress, people will need help in one form or another. Whether that is to leave the situation or to merely cope with the stress, it is important to turn to someone else for help before serious mental or physical health issues develop.

The point at which chronic stress turns toxic is when it becomes unrelenting and traumatic, and when sufferers lack control and social support. "What we tend to mean when we talk about stress are the daily experiences of time scarcity, role uncertainty, social conflict and pressure," says Kelly McGonigal, PhD '04, a health psychologist, author and Stanford lecturer. "I've become even more convinced that the type of 'stress' that is toxic has more to do with social status, social isolation and social rejection. It's not just having a hard life that seems to be toxic, but it's some of the social poisons that can go along with stigma or poverty."

Additionally, toxic workplaces may prioritize growth or customer satisfaction over the well-being and needs of their employees, leading to unhealthy levels of stress and pressure. This can create a negative and unsupportive work atmosphere that undermines employee morale and well-being.

The effects of repeated increases in cortisol levels have been researched in many animal studies, but these types of controlled studies are not ethical to conduct in humans.[25] It has been determined that when glucocorticoids, including cortisol, are placed into various parts of rats' brains for many days, CRH is produced in increased quantities.[25] In turn, this causes fear behaviors, increased caution, and activation of competing regulatory systems.The hypothesized mechanism of action that causes permanent damage in the toxic stress theory is that excessive levels of cortisol may cause neuronal cell death, particularly in the hippocampus, which has relatively high levels of glucocorticoid receptors. Because children's brains are developing relatively more compared to later in life, there is concern that their brains might be relatively more vulnerable to stressors compared to adults.[26] Research has shown that children who have experienced extended periods of extreme stress have smaller brains. Children who had experienced more intense and lasting stressful events in their lives posted lower scores on tests of spatial working memory.[26] They had more trouble navigating tests of short-term memory as well. The region of the brain that is most affected by increased levels of cortisol and other glucocorticoids is the hippocampus.[25]

Women will continue to experience stress in their lives. A personal wellness plan with built-in periods of recovery and self-care can help women manage stress and empower themselves to make healthy life changes.

The good news is that parents can help buffer children from this stress before it becomes toxic. Providing safe, secure, and nurturing relationships (sometimes called "relational health") helps reset the body's stress system. In addition, research suggests positive childhood experiences (see "More information," below) are just as important.

Others are often confused by the destructive behavior and negative emotional reactions of a toxic employee; outbursts of anger and rage that clearly seem to be an over exaggerated display of emotion (overt) relative to the situation. A covert toxic employee may quietly, with a smile, undermine others (keeping their thoughts and feelings to themselves), yet still acting out with destructive behaviors, just hidden. Both overt and covert toxic employees tend to act in a defensive manner to protect themselves against a perceived threat to their own self-identity or self-esteem. Most reasonable people in the same or a similar situation just would not react this way. Peers, colleagues, managers and customers prefer to avoid them at all costs since being around them leads to so much discomfort or even stress. People begin calling in sick. Individual or team performance begins to be adversely affected. More mistakes are made. Accidents happen. A star performer leaves the organization. Worse yet, when the word gets out, potentially good job candidates may not even want to work in the organization.

You are clearly in a position to make an important moral and business decision. "Do I let her (the toxic employee) stay or do I let her go?" There is a need to consider the potential or existing risks involved in letting her stay or go. There is also a need to use some moral reasoning to come to a fair judgment and sound business decision before taking action. Categorical moral reasoning suggests it's just wrong to keep her. How could you not remember the damage that she has already done? Keeping her will only lead to more damage. (And, certainly it has been shown that a toxic employee's behavior can and does lead to others over time to becoming toxic as well). Now you have a whole team or entire group that is toxic. The potential negative impact of keeping her may, by far, outweigh the risk of letting her go. Consequential moral reasoning suggests you look at the bigger picture and consider what is in the greater good (or collective interest) of everyone else involved; and the consequences of keeping her, or letting her go. Ask yourself, will any intervention that you might take, within the next 3, 6 or 12 months, make a difference in a change of her philosophical thinking and lead to more constructive behavior? If you come to the realization that the toxic employee is not likely to change his or her thinking and behavior, and the likelihood is greater that they will only create more destruction, then make the decision to terminate and have it over with. And, if you think it's too hard (with too many obstacles) to get rid of the toxic employee (spending too much time, effort or energy documenting and remediating), imagine the potential cost to your organization at some point in the future when you're now faced with even higher potential risks (more lying, more stealing, more sabotage, more complaints by customers, bullying, accidents or even some form of harassment or violence). Are you prepared for this kind of liability to the organization? How you handle the toxic employee is one cost to your organization that you can control.

Modern living swells with sources of stress unrelated to life-or-death situations, such as sleep deprivation, poor nutrition, toxic relationships, financial concerns, and more. The human body requires periods of stress and relaxation to be healthy, and our fast-paced society often makes this feel next to impossible.

Practicing self-care is important for reducing stress. Some good ways to reduce and manage stress include eating well, exercising regularly, trying to reduce negativity, prioritizing leisure time, limiting alcohol and caffeine, avoiding cigarettes and other drugs, and adopting proper sleep hygiene. 041b061a72


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