| | | | | |

Everybody wants to be productive and happy at work. Yet, instead of waking up feeling joyful about their job, many people start the day in a state of tension. For most, the workplace can be a challenging environment.

Stress refers to various types of bodily or mental tension. Workplace stress can come on suddenly — or creep up slowly. 

At work, colleague relationships, employee problems, commitments, deadlines, and huge decisions can all put a strain on mental health.

How the Brain Works Under Stress

Is it possible to think clearly when you’re under pressure at work? How does stress affect your decision-making and overall health?

An interesting phenomenon has been investigated by Lisa Penney, a business-school professor at the University of South Florida, Sarasota-Manatee. She specializes in the study of stress, which is an important aspect of the business world. [1]

Her initial goal was to identify and determine how to eliminate the causes of stress, which she later realized is not realistic. “We can’t make it all go away, and even if we could, that’s not a good thing — we need challenges to learn and grow,” says Penney in her TEDxUFSM Talk. 

She discovered that when people are distressed, their thoughts can become distorted. “Some of the more fundamental assumptions you make daily about the world you experience and the people in it, including yourself,” she says, “can’t always be trusted.” 

Further, according to Penney, lab experiments have demonstrated that “sometimes we see things that aren’t there, and sometimes we fail to see things that are right in plain sight… This happens because we are hardwired to make fast decisions, not accurate ones.”

The way the brain processes information is either fast or slow. Our fast brain makes decisions efficiently by focusing on a few important details based on past experience. 

Our slow brain, on the other hand, uses control processing to make decisions. It takes into account more information and thinks more critically.

Our brains are usually in fast mode, with more than 95% of thoughts believed to be unconscious and automatic.

“The fact that our thoughts and decisions become automatic is really helpful and it works great in situations that closely match our past experiences,” says Penney. “But it gets us in trouble when we have new experiences and when we’re under stress.” 

This is because, when our fast brain is at work, we are prone to snap judgments without going through proper decision-making processes — which is how some people fall for scams.

Workplace Stress and Hormones 

A region of our brain, the hypothalamus, and two neuroendocrine organs — the pituitary in the forebrain and the adrenals located under the kidneys — are the principal biochemical actors in handling stress.

When you come across a perceived threat at work such as a difficult decision, your hypothalamus activates an alarm system in your body. It communicates with brain regions that regulate mood, motivation, and fear. [2]

This causes your adrenal glands to release a flood of hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol, via a combination of nerve and hormonal signals.  

Adrenaline raises your heart rate, elevates your blood pressure, and increases your energy supply. 

Cortisol, the primary stress hormone, raises blood sugar levels (glucose), improves glucose utilization in the brain, and increases the availability of substances that repair tissues. Cortisol also suppresses functions that are unnecessary or harmful in a fight-or-flight situation. 

Unfortunately, stress-related hormones are harmful to overall health when your body is constantly producing them. They alter immune system responses and suppress digestive, reproductive, and growth processes. 

They can even weaken the heart, suppress immunity, exacerbate depression, cause sleeping problems, and detract from your brain’s supply of the mood-enhancing hormone serotonin. [2]

How to Handle Your Fast Brain for Stress Management

You can keep your fast brain in check with these coping techniques:

Paying Attention 

The next time you find yourself telling a story about what’s going on at work, remind yourself that you are under stress and it’s affecting your thinking. 

For example, you have just sent your boss a proposal that you’ve worked on for weeks, and they reply with, “OK.” It’s natural to worry that maybe they dislike you or your proposal. But before you go into a downward spiral, check your thoughts.

Deep Breathing  

When we are stressed, part of our brain goes offline as our bodies go into fight-or-flight mode. We can’t seem to see or think clearly. Taking deep breaths tells your body you are safe and allows you to make rational decisions. 

Healthy Online Content

Be selective about the online content you interact with, from your emails to your social media channels. You don’t need the added anxiety of reading the news to compound your work stress. Instead, recharge emotionally with feel-good online resources such as Dr. Nandi’s Calming the Chaos Audio Series.

Constant Curiosity 

Ask yourself: “What story am I telling myself? Is it true?” Remember, familiar thoughts will feel true, so don’t stop there. 

“What evidence do I have? Do I have other stories that might also make sense?” Like with the “OK” email from your boss, consider other possibilities. Perhaps they are just too busy to give you a longer reply.

With these tips, you can disrupt fast thinking and take control of your brain’s knee-jerk reactions to negative situations at work. 

Wellness Knowledge and Stress Management 

We tend to make heroes out of decisive and productive colleagues. After all, businesses need people whose grit, ambition, and courage produce new realities out of workplace dreams. 

Yet left unchecked, this hunger for achievement can lead to disenchantment from the very aspects that led us to choose our careers in the first place.

Good thing there are wellness techniques that will help you manage office stress, achieve professional goals, and make the best decisions. 

If you find yourself overwhelmed by stress at work, then it’s high time to listen to Dr. Nandi’s Calming the Chaos Audio Series. This 7-day guided meditation journey can help you succeed professionally and reach amazing breakthroughs — without sacrificing your mental and physical health.

Be sure to also visit the Health Hero Pharmacy for wellness supplements that can help boost your mood, manage stress levels, and more.


  1. Under stress at work? Just remember: Don’t believe what you think. 
  2. Chronic stress puts your health at risk – Mayo Clinic 

Similar Posts