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The clock is ticking before an important meeting or presentation. Your heart begins to race and you start to sweat. You’ve encountered a threat (whether real or perceived), and your brain has activated its innate “fight, flight, or freeze” response. 

This physiological response is a survival mechanism—fighting to overcome a threat, fleeing to get away, or freezing and doing neither out of panic. But that response is one that’s often not needed to endure the types of threats we face in the workplace today.

“Emotional stressors like a confrontational boss, a needy friend, or even a traffic jam can come with out-of-proportion physical reactions, which aren’t exactly conducive to life’s demands,” writes Ashley Abramson in Elemental.

Lynn Bufka, the associate executive director for practice research and policy at the American Psychological Association, said in the Elemental article, “It’s really evolutionarily a mismatch between how we are hardwired to respond and where the threats are now.”

Over time, when experiencing chronic stress, we may decide to engage in “flight, fight, or freeze” in different ways. Whether we’ve been asked to take on more and more responsibilities and projects or we’re bombarded with last-minute requests, feeling underwater at work day after day takes a toll on us mentally, physically, and emotionally. The chronic release of cortisol (a stress hormone) even weakens the immune system, which can make us more susceptible to illness.


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