“Research shows that 90% of Australians need to stress less — with 74% of people reporting being stressed from work”. — Lifeline Australia
A few weeks ago it was Stress Down Day, a Lifeline Australia initiative, and even though our team’s daily focus is on reducing muscle stressing injuries, it’s crucial that we don’t forget about the organ in charge of it all — the brain!
“We feel ‘stressed’ when real or imagined pressures exceed our perceived ability to cope… But feeling stress is not always a bad thing. When stress is short-term and manageable, it motivates and facilitates learning and change. Stress only becomes toxic when it’s excessive or long-lasting.” **
Stress can impact human performance and overall feelings of ‘wellbeing’ in the short, and long term. It can contribute to other mental health issues, and even cause permanent physical damage to our bodies.
So how do we manage stress?
It’s true that the brain is not a muscle. But in many ways, we can treat it like one by exercising it regularly and building beneficial mental health habits that actually stick. There are three distinct habit categories to consider; bottom-up, top-down, and outside in (see diagram below).
Something that Matt Griggs, a Sydney-based mindfulness practitioner, said to me once stuck; “We have a habit of brushing our teeth daily to stop decay, why then, do we not do small things daily to help our minds?”
Neuroscience has proven that the ‘use it or lose it’ principle applies to brain health. Just like reduced mobility causes muscle atrophy, cognitive decline due to inactivity and neglect can have implications that we are only really beginning to understand.
But on a positive note, it’s also becoming widely accepted that the brain is able to change in response to stimulation (also known as ‘neuroplasticity’). You can train the brain just like a muscle and learning causes positive physical changes in adult brains too! If that’s not a case for lifetime learning, I don’t know what is.
To recap, the brain needs;
We need to teach it new habits. Just like safety teams need to help train new movement habits as work tasks requirements change and workforces age.
After stress, we need recovery time (sleep and mindful moments). Just like workers need time to let their bodies rest after highly demanding physical work.
3. Regular Conditioning
Neglecting our mental health is like deconditioning in blue-collar workers. If they go on leave or stop doing manual work for a period of time, injury risk spikes.
Physical and mental health are interconnected and it’s important for companies to look at both when they are building workplace wellness, health and safety programs.
This is my first article since moving into the safety industry! I’d really appreciate any thoughts/feedback 🙋🏻♀️ 🙏
I hope your week is filled with good stress — and a few quiet moments.