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Marek Struszczyk

Co-Founder ManagerUp

Last modified: June 22nd, 2023

Ready to tackle your stress levels? Stress is a common issue many business executives face in today’s fast-paced and demanding work environment. Understanding the impact of stress on the body, and how to cope with your stressors is a great place to start managing your stress. 

Business executives face many stressors in their daily lives, including tight deadlines, complex projects, demanding clients and colleagues, and the pressure to succeed. 

The pressure of everyday stressors can build up over time and present itself in various ways, including physical symptoms such as headaches, fatigue, and muscle tension, as well as emotional symptoms such as anxiety, irritability, and depression. While the symptoms of chronic, long-term can lead to burnout, decreased job satisfaction, and reduced productivity. Stress has the potential to be a positive or negative force. It can help you reach your full potential; if left unmanaged, it can cause physical and mental harm. 

Overview of our stress and the body series: Steps to understanding and managing stress

  • First, it is important to recognize that stress is a natural part of life, and everyone experiences it to some extent. It is critical to understand that stress is not necessarily bad but rather a response to demands or challenges that can help motivate and drive success.
  • Second, it is crucial to identify the sources of stress in your life. Familiar sources of stress include work demands, financial worries, family responsibilities, and relationship problems. By understanding the sources of stress, business executives can take steps to manage these challenges more effectively.
  • Third, it is vital to understand stress’s impact on physical and mental health. Chronic stress can lead to various health problems, including high blood pressure, heart disease, and depression. Read more in our article on how stress can affect you adversely. 
  • Fourth, developing a range of effective stress management strategies is crucial. This can include incorporating mindfulness and relaxation techniques, such as meditation and deep breathing exercises, and engaging in regular physical activity like running, yoga, or sports. Read more in our article Strategies for coping with stress. 
  • Finally, it is essential to make stress management a priority in your life. This can involve setting aside time for daily mindfulness and relaxation practices and creating physical activity as a regular part of your routine. By prioritizing stress management, business executives can improve their ability to manage stress and lead a healthier and more fulfilling life.

Let’s get started

In the first article in our stress series, we will discover what stress is, why we have it, and where it comes from. Knowledge is the key! 

Understanding the concept of stress

Stress is the body’s natural response to challenging situations. It is an emotional and physical reaction to changes in the environment. 

How does it work? When the body perceives a threat, it releases various hormones. These hormones include adrenaline, cortisol, and norepinephrine. These “stress hormones” put the body into a state of alertness. Ready to tackle the perceived threat. 

This state of alertness is commonly called our “fight or flight response” or “stress response.” In this state, the heart and breathing rate increase, energy is released from stores, and activity in the digestive system is reduced.  

An evolutionary perspective on stress: Where does stress come from?

Stress is tied to the body’s evolutionary process and is an adaptive response to the environment. It is a natural response to danger developed over millions of years to help protect us from harm. It is a survival mechanism that has enabled humans to respond to environmental threats and survive in a changing world.

From an evolutionary perspective, stress has benefited humans throughout our history. It has allowed us to respond quickly and effectively to potentially dangerous situations, increasing our survival chances. For example, if a hunter-gatherer encountered a predator, the stress response would help them to identify the threat quickly and to summon the energy and strength necessary to fight or flee.

The stress response has also been beneficial in other situations. For example, if a hunter-gatherer needed to build a shelter or find food, the stress response would help them to mobilize their resources quickly and to focus their attention and energy on the task.

However, today, most of the stressors we encounter are not life-threatening. Yet, our bodies still respond with the same “fight or flight” response. 

Regardless of the cause of stress, whether warranted or not, being in a constant state of “alertness” or “stress” can have varying effects on a person’s health. In the short term, stress can cause headaches, muscle tension, and difficulty sleeping. While in the long term, it can lead to depression, anxiety, and heart disease. It can also trigger other unhealthy behaviors such as smoking, drinking, and overeating.

The fight or flight response: The biological basis of stress

The fight or flight response, or acute stress response, is an autonomic nervous system reaction. It is a physiological response that helps individuals confront or flee perceived danger. 

This could be anything from a physical danger, such as a wild animal, to a psychological threat, such as an impending deadline. The brain sends a message to the adrenal glands, which initiates hormonal changes. These changes give the individual the energy and strength to confront or flee the threat.

The fight or flight response is integral to the body’s defense mechanism and can be beneficial in times of danger. For example, suppose a wild animal confronts a person. The fight or flight response can give them the energy and strength to fight off the animal or run away.

What triggers the fight or flight response

Psychological threats such as a looming deadline or difficult conversation can also trigger the fight or flight response. In these cases, the physiological changes can be beneficial in providing the person with the energy and focus to complete the task or conversation.

While the fight or flight response can be beneficial in times of danger, it can also become problematic when triggered too often or intensely. Chronic fight-or-flight response activation can lead to physical and mental health issues like anxiety, depression, and high blood pressure.

It is important to practice relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, and yoga to prevent the fight or flight response from becoming problematic. These strategies can help reduce the body’s stress response and can help prevent chronic activation of the fight or flight response. 

Acute vs. chronic stress: Understanding the differences

Acute stress is a short-term stress response that usually lasts for a short duration, typically for a few minutes or hours. On the other hand, chronic stress is a long-term stress response resulting from persistent or ongoing stressors that never seem to end. 

What is acute stress?

An immediate threat or pressure triggers acute stress. It is the body’s short-term response to a stressful situation and is the most common type of stress. The effects of acute stress are usually only felt for a short time. Examples of acute stress include public speaking, a job interview, an argument with a loved one, or a car accident. 

Acute stress can be positive or negative and is often associated with the body’s natural fight or flight response to a perceived threat, such as a sudden financial crisis, a public speaking engagement, or a near-miss accident.

Common physical symptoms of acute stress can include rapid heart rate, sweat, muscle tension, difficulty breathing, nausea, and dizziness. Psychological symptoms can include feeling overwhelmed, overwhelmed, difficulty concentrating, and irritability. In most cases, acute stress dissipates once the stressful situation has passed.

Case study 1:

Jack, a business executive, was in the middle of an important presentation when his phone rang. His wife informed him their child was sick and needed to be taken to the hospital immediately. Jack was overcome with acute stress, causing him to feel physically and emotionally overwhelmed. 

The stress affected his performance during the presentation, causing him to stutter, forget essential points, and appear distracted. Despite his best efforts, the production was less successful than he had hoped, leaving him discouraged and stressed. 

What is chronic stress? 

Chronic stress is a sustained mental and emotional strain caused by external or internal pressures. It can cause physical, psychological, and emotional health problems like depression, anxiety, digestive issues, and headaches. Chronic stress can last for months or years and is often associated with situations beyond a person’s control, such as a difficult job, chronic illness, or a troubled relationship. Chronic stress can lead to physical and emotional exhaustion, burnout, and other serious health problems, such as anxiety, depression, high blood pressure, and heart disease.

Examples of chronic stressors include long-term unemployment, financial situations, a high-pressure job, a dysfunctional family, a chronic or terminal illness, or a traumatic experience. 

If left unchecked, chronic stress can seriously affect one’s well-being. Prolonged stress can lead to physical symptoms such as a weakened immune system, increased blood pressure, fatigue, or weight gain. It can also lead to psychological issues such as difficulty concentrating, irritability, and an inability to make decisions.

Case study 2:

Samantha, a business executive, had been working long hours for several months to meet her job’s demanding deadlines and expectations. The constant pressure and stress had taken a toll on her, causing her to feel physically and mentally exhausted. 

She was constantly feeling overwhelmed and had trouble sleeping at night. This chronic stress was affecting her performance at work, causing her to miss deadlines, make mistakes, and struggle to concentrate. As a result, her confidence and job satisfaction declined, and she needed help managing her workload. 

How stress affects the body varies, but management is the key

In conclusion, stress is a natural part of life. It is part of human evolution. We need to understand that stress is a normal physical and mental reaction to situations that cause feelings of tension, pressure, or threat. It is our body’s way of responding to any demand or challenge. And it doesn’t always have to be a bad thing. 

By understanding the key concepts and takeaways related to stress, business executives can take steps to manage this challenge more effectively and improve their overall quality of life. 

Read more about how stress affects the body and how to manage stress in our stress series:

When it comes to managing stress, knowledge is the key!


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What is stress?

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What are some physical symptoms of stress?

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How can stress impact decision-making?

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What are some strategies for managing stress?

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What is the role of self-care in managing stress?

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How can stress impact physical health?

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What is the role of sleep in managing stress?

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What are some common causes of stress in the workplace?

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How can leaders help reduce stress in the workplace?

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What is the importance of addressing stress in the workplace?

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