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The Holy Grail of stress management is finding a sweet middle ground – the right amount of stress at just the right time to help you perform at your peak, and the tipping point where too much stress impacts thinking, performance, decision making, and physical health.
The human mind has been hardwired to deal with threats and dangers, the fight-or-flight phenomenon. When faced with a threat, hormones take over first. It starts with a rush of adrenaline (or epinephrine) and norepinephrine through your body to prepare for instant action. Your heart rate increases and blood rushes to your muscles, giving them what can feel like superhuman power or speed. Airways in the lungs are opened to allow you to take in more oxygen and send it to your brain for increased performance.
If the danger or threat persists, a spike in glucose is triggered to provide a jolt of extra energy to your body and brain to improve attention, alertness, and clarity of thinking. Cortisol can also prepare your organs to better resist stress, pain, or injury and suppress non-emergency functions that the body believes are not essential in that moment of danger (like reproduction).
Failure to manage stress, too much stress too often, can result in regular overdosing on adrenaline and cortisol, which, according to a recent Inc story “increases your risk of anxiety, depression, digestive problems, headaches, heart disease, sleep issues, memory and concentration impairment, and other conditions.”
Stress is an essential short-term coping skill, a way for the body to respond to a challenge, threat, or other external stimulus. A beneficial side of the stress reaction is a short-term clarity of thinking, like just before a competition.
Stress can be elastic, and the brain function returns to its normal state when the stress has passed. In cases of prolonged stress, however, the elasticity disappears and brain function can permanently change. That change can have a negative impact on cognitive function, alertness, decision making, and memory.
Prolonged stress can take a physical toll as well, impacting the heart and circulation, the immune system, the digestive system, and the regulation of hormones.
And current research is beginning to show some concrete links between stress, and anxiety and depression. For example, stress can have an impact on the immune system, and a compromised or challenged immune system can often lead to depression.
Stress in the world of cybersecurity can come from a variety of sources:
- The sense that you’re constantly under attack, always at war, and therefore always in a heightened state of alertness. And stress.
- The personal weight, of feeling a personal responsibility to protect others, to not let others down, to not be the weak link, to never let the enemy chalk up a win.
- Fear of career repercussions if you fail.
- The moral frustration of constantly battling an enemy that seems to have no conscience, a battle of good and evil.
- No break between battles to recover, to unwind, to let the adrenaline and cortisol return to their normal, healthy levels.
All these stressors can be inflamed by things like long hours, constant frustrations, understaffing, insufficient budgets, and the need to constantly learn about new threats and technologies at breakneck speed.
That’s why it’s so important to manage stress quickly, to harness the short-term benefits without paying a long-term price.
As this project grows, we’ll be including advice from leading stress management experts, psychiatrists, and psychologists to help security professionals to better manage stress, and help employers play their important role too.